The signing of Zan Benedicic from AC Milan began the final push for new players at Leeds United.
The club’s midfield is largely shored up - even after the collapse of talks with Federico Viviani - and all thoughts have turned to the centre of their defence and the strength and depth of their attacking line.
Benedicic finalised his loan yesterday evening, breaking a spell of 16 days without a signing at Elland Road, but a flurry of other transfers were in the offing as the Slovenian midfielder signed up. The club are working against a clock which will mark the end of the summer on Friday and sound the bell for the new season in little more than 72 hours’ time.
United wanted Viviani, a young playmaker at Roma, on a year-long loan and are looking at alternative options in that position but the priority for owner Massimo Cellino and head coach David Hockaday is the acquisition of at least one central defender and a striker good enough to score 15 goals or more this season.
Leeds are on the verge of signing Nicky Ajose, a 22-year-old who came through Manchester United’s academy but has spent most of his professional career in the lower leagues.
Peterborough United signed him in 2011, paying Manchester United a six-figure sum, but he was held back by injuries from the outset and his three years at London Road have passed in a spate of loans to Scunthorpe United, Chesterfield, Crawley Town, Bury and Swindon Town.
Ajose scored 17 times last season, however, and aided Peterborough’s run to the League One play-offs but was notable by his absence from their team photo this week.
If he passes a medical today, the forward will take up a contract which ties him to United for the whole of this season. Leeds have been monitoring other strikers in the meantime and are understood to have been offered Mustapha Yatabare, a Mali international who plays for Guingamp in France and has shown an eye for goal in the French leagues.
The 28-year-old top-scored with 23 efforts when Guingamp won promotion from Ligue 2 in 2012-13 and claimed 11 in Ligue 1 last season. A deal is a long way from completion and Yatabare would most likely command a seven-figure transfer fee.
A high price has also been placed on Andy Delort, another France-based forward who Leeds have been heavily linked with. Delort claims to have struck a deal with a side in England but French journalists believe he is destined to join either Charlton Athletic or Brentford. Cellino told the YEP last week that he had no interest in Delort, saying rumours of firm bids from United were “someone playing games.”
Leeds’ approach for Juventus defender Frederik Sorensen was more genuine and more serious and the 22-year-old centre-back was due at Elland Road this afternoon to finalise his move.
Sorensen emerged as a realistic target in the early part of last week, before Leeds and Chesterfield engaged in rapid and unsuccessful negotiations over a proposed deal for Liam Cooper, and Juventus are willing to allow the Dane to come to Yorkshire on loan for a year with a view to a permanent deal next summer.
Similar agreements have already been reached with Benedicic and Souleymane Doukara - the French striker brought in from Catania last month - and the plan with Viviani was to include a clause in his contract giving Leeds the right to buy him in 12 months’ time.
Cellino said: “I never take players just on loan. If you do it that way, all you are doing is training somebody else’s player for them. The player gets better, then he goes back and we get nothing.
“If someone comes on loan we must be able to buy them later. Otherwise it’s no good for us. I want players to be here, growing.”
Sorensen, who has appeared in Serie A for Juventus and Bologna, is said to be costing a loan fee of around £300,000 and his arrival would strengthen Leeds in an area of their squad which has been waiting for improvement throughout the summer.
United were confident of completing the signing of centre-back Giuseppe Bellusci from Catania a month ago but failed to agree personal terms with him, and their interest in Cooper faded rapidly after Chesterfield refused to accept an offer of £475,000 last week. They were made aware of Mark Hudson’s availability but have not attempted to sign the experienced Cardiff City defender.
But Juventus are coached by Massimiliano Allegri, a man who Cellino knows well and who coached Cagliari for two years while Cellino ran the Serie A club. Productive discussions moved the deal for Sorensen forward over the weekend.
The single frustration for Cellino in the past week has been the failure to drag Viviani’s transfer over the line. His loan from Roma was in the offing for the best part of a fortnight but differences between United and his advisors led both sides to give up on talks last week.
Speaking on Sunday, Cellino said: “He is a good player, a talented player, but I cannot sign someone like that.
“All last week it was demands about this, demands about that, asking for more and more so eventually I said ‘enough’.”
Viviani’s representatives accused Leeds of failing to deliver the paperwork they needed to complete his transfer, claiming they had not received a copy of the contract agreed with United at the beginning of last week.
But with Viviani on the verge of joining Serie B side Latina - returning to a club who he helped take to the brink of promotion last season - his agent, Giovanni Ferro, issued a more cordial statement, telling the YEP: “I thank the president (Cellino) for the opportunity and for his fine words in favour of Federico. Once again it proves Cellino is a connoisseur of football.
“However, we have not played any games. Federico has made a choice. He wishes to complete the work and reach Serie A with Latina. We thank Cellino and (Nicola) Salerno and hope Leeds United win the Championship.”