Leeds United boss Redfearn still in need of wide men

Sol Bamba
Sol Bamba
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There were several arrivals and departures from United during January and the Whites kept hold of Rudy Austin, but Neil Redfearn is still in need of wingers for his side’s new formation. Phil Hay reports.

The last hours of the transfer window did not give Neil Redfearn the signing he craved – a natural winger and a left-footer ideally – but when it came to the future of Rodolph Austin, Leeds United’s head coach got his way.

There were wingers who Redfearn hoped to sign, like Millwall’s Martyn Woolford and Rotherham United’s Ben Pringle, but it was clear at an early stage of deadline day that Edgar Cani would be the only new arrival at Elland Road. More concerning was the question of who might be sold.

Earlier in the window Leeds took the decision to part company with Stephen Warnock and Jason Pearce, despite Redfearn’s reluctance to lose either of them. The only caveat in discussions was the fact that both Warnock and Pearce wanted to leave. But from Redfearn’s point of view the retention of Austin was non-negotiable, irrespective of bids for him or his contractual position.

United’s boss made his stance clear before and after Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town, claiming Austin was “not for sale at all costs”, and between the arrival of Cani from Catania and the departures of Michael Tonge and David Norris, Austin’s situation mattered most to Redfearn on Monday. The club demonstrated as much by issuing a statement ruling out the midfielder’s departure before FIFA’s 11pm deadline.

That Austin became the focus of the final few days of the January window will surprise him as much as it surprised anyone else. At the start of last month Leeds took the view that the 29-year-old was expendable and worth cashing in on. His contract is up at the end of the season and while Austin is likely to be offered a 12-month extension in the summer, there is no offer on the table at present.

Brighton enquired about him before the window opened and Millwall – a club who, devoid of a holding midfielder, took Tonge on loan from Leeds on Monday – also expressed their interest. But Austin’s strong performance in an FA Cup defeat at Sunderland on January 3 was the tipping point for Redfearn, a game which reminded United’s head coach that he did not have many midfielders as competitive or combative.

Austin has been lodged in Redfearn’s line-up since the turn of the year and an effective figure in their valuable run of four league games without defeat. At Huddersfield on Saturday, the post-match statistics put his performance far ahead of those of Jacob Butterfield, Conor Coady and David Edgar, the cogs in Town’s midfield. “He typifies our resurgence,” Redfearn said after the final whistle.

The most serious offer for Austin came from Wigan Athletic last Wednesday, a bid of £500,000. Had Leeds been further up the Championship and less at risk of relegation, even Redfearn might have agreed that a fee of that size made financial sense for a player who is six months away from the end of his deal and will be free to leave Elland Road in July.

The club heeded Redfearn’s warnings and rejected Wigan’s offer but rumours on Sunday night that the midfielder has sealed a transfer to the DW Stadium led to anxious attempts to clarify the situation. The statement which United issued around 2pm, declaring that Austin was “not for sale”, was designed to reassure all concerned. Austin had made it clear by then that he did not want to leave.

In the end, the significance of deadline day was in the identity of the players who Leeds avoided selling. Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt remain at Elland Road – none of those three academy products are thought to have attracted firm offers – and Austin will see out the season with Leeds. With Granddi Ngoyi currently injured and Edgar Cani an unknown quantity, centre-back Sol Bamba is likely to be the most effective of United’s three signings. Redfearn described the defender’s debut at Huddersfield as “excellent”.

Cani, meanwhile, provides an alternative to Steve Morison, the striker who has led United’s attack alone for the past four games.

Cani’s career has taken him through Italy’s lower leagues, with permanent spells at Pescara, Palermo and Catania broken up by two years in Poland with Polonia Warsaw. The 25-year-old Albanian has never truly settled and Leeds are the seventh club he has joined on loan.

Reporters who have watched Cani play in Italy describe his style as that of a “classic number nine”.

He is said to be strong in the air and a nuisance in the box but a footballer who, at 6’4”, is constrained by a lack of pace. His record over the years also shows that, much like former Catania striker Souleymane Doukara, he has never been a prolific goalscorer.

The forward’s most productive spell came at Polonia Warsaw where he scored 11 times in 31 appearances between 2011 and 2013; ironically so since his time in Poland was marred by fall-outs with senior staff and severe financial problems behind the scenes at Polonia. That period also earned him a first cap with Albania’s national side.

Cani struggled at the start of this Serie B season, a campaign in which Catania have also toiled, but he came to be seen as one of their better players, despite scoring only three times in 15 appearances. Supporters of the club in Sicily are said to be frustrated by the decision to loan him out, not least because Catania failed to sign a replacement.

Cani was a target suggested by United’s sporting director, Nicola Salerno, but Redfearn will continue to make the case for the arrival of out-and-out wingers when the Football League’s emergency loan window opens next week. Mowatt has been used on the left side of midfield in both of United’s wins over Bournemouth and Huddersfield.

Woolford and Pringle were seen as realistic targets by Redfearn–- the pair are out of contract at the end of this season – but sources at Elland Road say United’s boss also looked at Tom Ince and Matt Phillips in the closing stages of the window.

Ince joined Derby County on loan from Hull City on Monday. Phillips is still at Queens Park Rangers and has started only five league games this season.