Varney: Leeds were the only club for me
Leeds United has been the destination of choice for players caught up in Portsmouth’s financial crisis. David Norris, who agreed terms on Thursday, was the fourth signing plucked by Neil Warnock from the wreckage of Fratton Park.
All four are among friends at Leeds and the usual process of integrating themselves should be easier because of it.
Luke Varney gave little thought to that, so anxious was he to sign for United, but the core of former Portsmouth players helped him feel at home within hours of his arrival on Leeds’ pre-season tour of Devon and Cornwall.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if there’d been no-one I knew,” he said. “The lads I’ve never met before made me feel part of the furniture after a day and a half of training.
“But it’s really easy to settle in when there are players here who you get on with well and have worked with before. I’ve had a few clubs in my time and I don’t think I’ve ever been to one where there were so many familiar faces.”
For Warnock, United’s manager, the trickle of signings from Fratton Park has been self-fulfilling.
Defender Jason Pearce, the first to join Leeds on May 4, was in touch with Varney throughout the summer and also helped to convince Norris that United were a better bet than Sheffield Wednesday, the other option on the midfielder’s table.
“I believe that Jason was on to Norris about our friendly at Tavistock on Monday,” Warnock said, “telling him how great the crowd were and the numbers that turned out. It was quite incredible.
“He spoke to Luke too and (goalkeeper) Jamie Ashdown and they’ll have put him in the picture I’m sure. Although having said that, David always wanted to come here.”
That was Varney’s attitude from the moment Leeds contacted him at the end of last season. Had circumstances been different, he would have tied up the transfer far back in May, around the time of Pearce’s £500,000 move, but his was one of a number of deals which took time to materialise.
There were complications at both ends, not least the sum of £200,000 which Portsmouth owed to Derby County having signed Varney from Pride Park last summer, or the wages he deferred after Portsmouth entered administration.
All the forward knew was that he would definitely be leaving – one of several players deemed too expensive for a club in Portsmouth’s state to retain.
“It’s taken me three months to get this done and I was very keen to come,” Varney said. “I pushed it as hard as I could without sounding too desperate and it’s a very positive move for me at a point in my career when I feel I’m at my prime.
“The move was on the cards for a long time but through the contact I had with Leeds I was always told that it was going to happen 100 per cent. They told me not to make any rash decisions or get impatient.
“Once Pearce joined I had a bit of a go-between here and that really helped. Other clubs came forward once it became clear Leeds were interested but I said from the start that I had my heart set on coming to Leeds. I didn’t speak to another club, only to Leeds.
“There were other options and Portsmouth made me aware of them but I was clear about what I wanted to do. There’s a lot of ambition here.”
Varney completed his move to Leeds in the same week as United sold their former club captain, Robert Snodgrass, to Norwich City for £3m. The second deal robbed Warnock of a lynchpin in his team and Varney will be used to fill the roaming role which Warnock intended to give to Snodgrass.
Among the demands from his manager is a tally of goals which runs into double figures next season.
Varney, who played in the Premier League with Blackpool as recently as 2011, scored just six times at Portsmouth last term. He opened his account for Leeds in Wednesday’s friendly against Bodmin Town, striking on his debut with his first opportunity.
Varney said: “The gaffer wants me to be a bit more positive and get among the goals.
“There’s a lot more expected of me than just scoring but if I can add a few more goals then that would be the finishing touch. Playing in an inside role a bit more will help me a lot because it lets me get through on goal.
“It was nice to get a run-out (against Bodmin) and pleasing to get a goal. It was a bit of a relief too.
“Things haven’t been great for me at Portsmouth and there were five lads there who knew we were leaving and worked day after day trying to keep ourselves fit. I’m so pleased to be here.”
Varney’s exit from Portsmouth was so inevitable that the League One club left him behind when they flew out to Spain for their own pre-season tour. Norris was also omitted from the travelling squad in the hope that he would have negotiated his departure by the time his team-mates returned.
A deal with Varney was essentially finalised last week but he was confronted by another delay as he and Portsmouth worked towards a compromise agreement over the staggered payment of his deferred wages.
“It was really tough and a bit soul-destroying,” Varney said. “The lads in my position all knew the situation and we all knew we’d be going as and when this move came off but you feel like you’re wasting time and counting the days.
“I’m lucky to have a good family and I always believed that clubs would come in for me. I made sure I looked after myself and I kept as busy as I could. But it wasn’t easy. I can’t say I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks.
“Deep down I had this move to look forward to. You don’t want to count your chickens because a move isn’t done until it’s done but it was a really positive thing.
“The manager’s tried to sign me in the past and I remember the phone calls. I’ve had three or four from him over the years and I did say I’d sign but other things popped up. He let me know about that!
“We’ve never worked together before but this was one chance I wasn’t going to miss. There were other clubs who came in but I was always going to come here.”