Simon Grayson today hit back at claims that the sale of Jonny Howson had exposed a lack of ambition at Leeds United – and vowed to turn down bids for any of the club’s remaining assets.
The Leeds manager defended the decision to accept an offer from Norwich City for Howson and categorically rejected speculation surrounding interest in other members of the squad at Elland Road.
Howson, 23, has reached the end of his Leeds career after more than 200 appearances and United’s captain was in Norwich to finalise his transfer to the Premier League club yesterday after attracting a bid in excess of £1million.
United had been negotiating with Howson to extend a contract which was due to expire in six months’ time, but the midfielder appeared unwilling to commit after stating his wish to play in the Premier League.
Leeds dropped to 11th in the Championship after last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace and Howson’s reluctance to accept a new deal was viewed by angry supporters as an admission of doubt about United’s potential.
The past week has seen a flood of rumours involving other Leeds players, with Bolton Wanderers credited with an interest in Tom Lees and Adam Clayton, Wigan Athletic reported to be monitoring top-scorer Ross McCormack and Leicester City linked with Robert Snodgrass, arguably United’s most valuable professional.
But Grayson denied receiving bids for any of that quartet and said: “It’s not a sign of a lack of ambition that a club is signing one of our players. Our ambition will be shown by the speculation linking three or four others players with other clubs – that won’t be happening and they won’t be leaving. It’s utter nonsense.
“Unless someone offers an absolute fortune – and any club is vulnerable to that - we’ve got no intention of selling any other player to any other club.
“Jonny’s deal suited us and him. Any other deal has to suit us and not the individual. All these other players, apart from Aidy White, are under contract for at least 18 months. If they want to leave then tough. They’ve got enough time on their contracts to make sure they’re not going anywhere.
“I’ve not heard anything from (Wigan manager) Roberto Martinez or (Bolton manager) Owen Coyle. They’ve all got my number and nobody’s rung me.”
Howson is the latest in a line of talented and highly-rated professionals who have left Elland Road in Grayson’s time as boss with their contracts dwindling or already expired.
Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny departed on free transfers last year, and United agreed to sell both Kasper Schmeichel and Max Gradel during the summer transfer window with their deals a year from ending.
In January of 2010, Grayson faced a situation similar to Howson’s when Jermaine Beckford crept to within six months of becoming a free agent but he chose to retain the striker and use him in their fight for promotion from League One, despite receiving a £2million bid from Newcastle United.
Howson is currently nursing a knee injury and Grayson said: “With Jermaine, we asked if the money from selling him could be utilised in a way that would give us a better chance of promotion. In the end he was one who got us to the Championship. Would Jonny have got us to the Premier League this season? That’s a difficult question because he’s injured and it was a factor we looked at.
“I can understand everybody’s frustration and I’m as frustrated as anyone. Jonny’s done very well for us, played nearly every game for me, been club captain and scored important goals. But ultimately when the offer came in I spoke to him and he was plain in stating his desire to play in the Premier League.
“I’m sure he’d have liked to have done that with us but nobody knows what the future holds. He felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down and we thought it was a good opportunity in a business sense. We can utilise the money to brings players in and make us stronger.”
Asked if Howson’s desire to move on pointed to a lack of ambition at Elland Road, Grayson said: “I don’t think so. He sees what we’re trying to do but it’s a toss of a coin. How can you say who’s going to get promoted definitely? We’d all come up with different answers.
“Jonny firmly believed that we could do it but it wasn’t guaranteed. He’s now got the guarantee that he’s going to play X-amount of football in the Premier League. If Norwich survive and stay up – and there’s a good chance they will – then he’s got another crack at it.
“He’s a manager dream and Paul Lambert (Norwich’s manager) is getting an excellent player – low maintenance and one who goes about his job with professionalism. He takes that on to the pitch and it’s staggered me to hear people criticise him this season. It isn’t until he’s out of the team that they realise how much we miss him and how much of an impact he has.”
United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan will assume the captain’s armband from Howson.