Leeds United failed on only one count during the transfer window. Most of their business ticked specific boxes regardless of what anyone else thought of it.
The elusive target was a second winger with a proven Championship record. Leeds made no great secret of that. They spoke with Will Buckley’s agent a few days before the window closed. They looked at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Rajiv van La Parra around the same time. Even after terms were agreed with Jordan Botaka, the club toyed with the idea of loaning Lloyd Dyer from Watford or Jamie Paterson from Nottingham Forest. Money was a problem with certain players. Value was an issue with others.
Botaka’s arrival from Excelsior did not change the fact that Uwe Rosler was trusting to luck in a area where he needed his team to be perfect. Stuart Dallas was a banker, a winger Rosler trusted and who understood the Championship, but the other side of the pitch looked flaky. Leeds reached the transfer deadline with doubts about Sam Byram’s form and his frame of mind.
They see promise in Botaka but appear to have lodged him in the Adryan bracket: needs time to learn, time to acclimatise and time to get properly fit. Time Rosler doesn’t necessarily have in abundance. Weakness on either wing is the death of the German’s plan. Leeds cannot thrive without consistency there. So the loan signing of Buckley, who will join from Sunderland next week, is a piece of the puzzle that was otherwise missing.
Like Dallas, the 25-year-old is a safe bet and a player who can do others a favour. With Buckley available, Botaka is not required to show immediately or suffer the consequences of a tentative start.
In Byram’s case, he has scope to step back and think again about his best position and where he goes next. It is stretching reality to say that the signing of Buckley pushes Byram a step closer to the exit.
The impasse in contract talks between the 21-year-old and Leeds has been pushing him that way for several months. Buckley’s arrival rather suggests that Massimo Cellino can see what Rosler is trying to do and see what his head coach wants. Rosler has been interested in Buckley for some time but a long-term deal to accommodate the 25-year-old’s salary – in excess of £20,000 a week at Sunderland – would have broken a wage structure which Cellino has been trimming and slim-lining for a year-and-a-half.
Leeds left Buckley alone last month because, in the circumstances, they were not keen to pay what Sunderland were asking. They suspected that, a few weeks on, Sunderland would be even more anxious to rid themselves of a player who was warned by Dick Advocaat to expect a long, disheartening run in their development side. The transfer strengthens Rosler’s arm in a couple of respects.
Aside from anything else, it supplements his squad with a winger who should not be found wanting in the Championship unless his fitness lets him down. That on occasions has been Buckley’s nemesis. But it could also be taken as a vote of confidence from above and a sign that Cellino is bedding in with Rosler as head coach.
The Italian was resistant to paying for Buckley initially and only partly because of the money involved. He would not be sanctioning this signing if he did not think Rosler’s plan was the way ahead and might be for a good while longer. Perspective is a funny thing. It seemed to many people that Rosler was under pressure for the first time last week; caught in a questionable period with an owner who can be very difficult to reason with. Few answers would have sufficed had Antony Kay’s 96th-minute header evaded Marco Silvestri during the injury-time onslaught at MK Dons on Saturday.
Rosler’s relief at full-time was tangible; almost an admission that he would not have been able to adequately defend a 2-2 draw against 10 men.
But Cellino, in his own way, has warmed to Rosler. I spoke to United’s owner last week and got a view of the German which others would share: that Rosler is a dedicated professional and, if anything, intense and focused to a fault. Cellino spoke about helping him to “relax a little” but said he liked Rosler “more than any other coach I’ve worked with here.”
That might not be high praise but coming from Cellino, it is a compliment all the same – not least because Rosler is established in the job. It was no introductory press conference spiel. Rosler is being supported to an extent which few of his recent predecessors were; not only in Cellino’s time but under previous owners too. He has a squad he likes and signings he asked for.
If Botaka was essentially Cellino’s baby then the signing of Buckley gives Rosler his way in return. If there are shallow areas in United’s squad then it tallies with a club that thinks promotion is asking too much of them this season.
But in no respect could it be said that the approach of the club is hanging Rosler out to dry. On the contrary, this is now a genuine managerial opportunity.