Strictly speaking, Kyle Bartley is a Swansea City player, but his future could still be at Elland Road – once the Swans’ and Leeds coach Garry Monks’ futures are decided. Phil Hay mulls over the options.
Kyle Bartley cannot say what comes next for him, and the defender made sure he bagged a memento on his way out of Leeds United.
The captain’s armband was in his pocket as he left Wigan Athletic on Sunday, just in case his 50th appearance for Leeds proved to be his last.
Garry Monk wants Bartley to re-sign this summer, on the assumption that Monk is still in charge as head coach, and Bartley’s diplomatic comments about moving to Leeds on a permanent basis barely disguise his interest in that move.
It is simply too early for anyone to know if the transfer will be feasible or affordable.
Bartley is under contract at Swansea City for another 12 months and Swansea are not yet certain of their league status next season.
They released Bartley on a year-long loan last summer, allowing him to link up with Monk at Elland Road, but extended his deal at the same time, implying that Bartley might yet have a part to play in Wales.
His performances for Leeds, meanwhile, have raised the chances of another Premier League club gambling on him and pricing United out of the market.
Pocketing the armband on Sunday was Bartley’s prerogative. Liam Bridcutt captained Leeds for most of this season but the midfielder was injured for three months before Christmas and again during the Championship’s run-in.
Bartley deputised for him and offered consistent leadership; widely considered as the player who, more than any other, held a stable dressing room together.
The 25-year-old owns a house in Leeds and hails from Stockport but, in professional terms, the end of the season has taken him back to the Liberty Stadium.
“It’s been an absolute honour,” Bartley said. “(Sunday) was my 50th game of the season, which is a great achievement for me, and it’s been a privilege to be able to wear this shirt so many times.
“To wear the armband as well, I’ve never taken one minute of that for granted.
Some fantastic players have put this shirt on, some absolutely great players, and I’ve managed to wear the armband too. I’ve actually ‘stolen’ it. It’s in my pocket and I’ll keep that one at home for myself.”
Between them, Bartley and Pontus Jansson made up one of the best centre-back partnerships in the Championship; poles apart in terms of their character and flamboyance but aligned on the basics.
Jansson, despite making 11 league appearances fewer, made 345 clearances over the course of the season to Bartley’s 341, largely because of his role as a free man at set-pieces.
Bartley made 72 interceptions to Jansson’s 62 and 47 blocks to Jansson’s 42. The pair are one-and-two in almost every area of combative statistics, including yellow cards.
Jansson will sign a three-year contract with Leeds in July, converting his loan from Torino into a permanent move for around £3.5m.
That fee has been made to look like a bargain in the past nine months, but United are insistent that interest from Southampton and others will not tempt them to cash-in on Jansson quickly.
From Monk’s perspective, retaining Bartley is no less important but the centre-back’s value has risen in the past 12 months and Burnley were linked with a £6m bid for him recently.
Bartley has never been a fixture at Swansea, who he joined from Arsenal in 2012, and the move to Leeds provided him with his first full season as a regular starter.
“I don’t like to think too far ahead,” Bartley said, “because things change quite quickly. For now, I’m going to try and rest up and prepare for next season. Spend some time with my family. I’m going to put my feet up and have a cold beer.
“It (his future) is a difficult question for me because I’ve got a lot of respect for my team at Swansea, and the manager and chairman.
“I can’t say too much. But what I can say is that I’ve loved every single second of this year. I’ve fallen in love with the players, the staff, the fans, the club. It’s been brilliant. That’s as far as I can say.”
Bartley stuck his neck out after United’s last home game of the season, a game which ended the club’s bid to qualify for the Championship play-offs, by fighting Monk’s corner and urging the club to extend his contract as head coach.
He repeated those comments after Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Wigan, saying he was hopeful that co-owner Andrea Radrizzani – a man poised to take 100 per cent control of Leeds this summer – would keep faith with Monk and give him the chance to continue as head coach next season.
Asked if Monk was the right man for the job, Bartley said: “In my eyes yes, and I think in hundreds of thousands with eyes too.
“Ultimately it’s the decision of the main man (Radrizzani). He’s a smart man, he’s intelligent and he’s a great guy. We’ve spoken to him a few times these last few months. I’m sure he’ll make the right decision in the best interests of the club and, as I said last week, for me that’s Garry Monk. My view on that will never change.
“This will be one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest club, in the Championship next season so they’ve got to have ambition here. They’ve got to have a vision.”