Leeds United manager Simon Grayson insisted today that he expects to retain the contracted members of his squad this summer, regardless of the club’s divisional status.
Grayson said he had no fear of a string of high-profile departures from Elland Road if the final 15 games of the season leave the club to prepare for a second year in the Championship.
The 41-year-old claimed the past 18 months, in which Leeds have earned promotion from League One and established themselves impressively in the Championship, had placed the club in a strong enough position to fight off interest in their more valuable players.
The profile of several of United’s professional has risen steeply this season, encouraged by United’s domestic form and the involvement of key squad members in international fixtures. Club captain Jonathan Howson made his first appearance for England’s Under-21s last week, 24 hours before Robert Snodgrass’ senior debut with Scotland.
The contracts held by Howson and Snodgrass run beyond the end of the Championship season, and many of United’s current first-choice players are tied to Elland Road for the 2011-12 term. The notable exceptions are midfielders Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny, both of whom have failed to agree contract extensions and will leave Leeds in May unless further offers are forthcoming.
Grayson admitted that promotion to the Premier League would ward off bids for his prized assets and reduce the threat of unwanted sales, but he does not expect United’s board to invite outside interest or for any of his players to seek transfers elsewhere.
Grayson said: “I think it (promotion) would help us. If we’re playing in the Premier League then it helps secure our best players. But we’re not in a position where we have to sell and most of our better players are under contract.
“Every player has his price, as I’ve said many times, but we wouldn’t be looking to do that if we didn’t make it into the Premier League this year. I think the lads who’ve done well this season realise themselves that they can fulfil their ambitions with this club.
“The majority here are on long-term contracts and they see a successful club in Leeds being possibly better than going to one or two of the clubs who are in the Premier League already.”
Leeds were not seen in August as one of the clubs most likely to compete for promotion this season but last weekend’s victory at Bristol City saw them pass the quota of points required to protect their Championship status, 15 games before the end of the campaign.
Six of the players named in Grayson’s 18-man squad at Ashton Gate had never played above League One level before August – Snodgrass among them – but United’s boss said it had not surprised him to see the players make a convincing transition from League One. The club held the Championship’s final play-off place ahead of this afternoon’s game against Norwich City at Elland Road.
“With the likes of Snodgrass, he’d never played in the Championship but he certainly had the quality to do so,” Grayson said. “Other players are very similar and you could they’d take to the Championship quite comfortably.
“They’ve done that but not through luck, it’s through a lot of hard work and through a lot of quality. It’s why they were signed in the first place.
“But not every player is able to make the step up and that’s been the case this year. One or two who have come into the Championship with us have moved onto other teams because I didn’t feel they were good enough.
“It’s down to the manager to get a team together which firstly gets you out of a certain division and then kicks you on in the next one.
“I know when the summer comes that, regardless of what division we’re in, there’ll be players leaving and new ones coming in to improve us.
“As we do every year at this time of the season, we’re looking at players who are out of contract or surplus to requirements at other clubs – forward thinking and planning ahead.
“But a large number of players here are good enough to play in the Championship and maybe beyond that.”