Protracted signings like Liam Bridcutt come to define a club’s transfer window. Leeds United won’t labour this long on any other player.
Massimo Cellino is not known for sticking with months of convoluted talks. Bridcutt earned that effort and as such the midfielder can think of himself as Leeds United’s prime target.
The drawback for him is that the hardest of deals create the most expectancy. After such a fight to re-sign him from Sunderland, it would be easy to think of Bridcutt as a silver bullet; the answer to every shortcoming in Garry Monk’s team.
Talented though he is, he will not be that but Bridcutt is part of the answer. And Monk needed answers after Saturday’s defeat to Birmingham City.
The past few days brought to mind the week in 2014 when the penny dropped and Leeds realised that they were sending David Hockaday out to face machine guns with a wooden stick. What Hockaday would have done with a machine gun himself is open to debate but a quick look at his line-up on the first day at Millwall was enough of a warning. Before long, Cellino was getting into deals for Mirco Antenucci, Billy Sharp, Liam Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci. The performance and the result at Millwall gave the strength of Hockaday’s squad some proper context.
The same has been true of Monk’s first handful of competitive games. If Cellino was using those matches to test the water, the lesson from two league defeats was fairly plain. It is not that Monk is using square pegs in round holes but some of his pegs are a loose fit. There is a big issue in the centre of defence and a concern about Sol Bamba’s form – enough of a worry for Monk to drop him on Tuesday. It is asking too much of Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Phillips to lock the gate and specialise in that position as Bridcutt does, especially when United’s midfield are outnumbered as they were against Birmingham. Vieira especially needs to find his niche and his feet in his own time. Bridcutt is a player who can do the job now. And as a by-product, Monk’s favoured number 10 – Pablo Hernandez – can revert to number 10.
Leeds were exposed in certain positions when this season began and the talent in their squad failed to compensate for it. A lively, fluent first half against Birmingham should not have been disregarded on the basis of a lame second but the worst parts of Saturday’s game demanded a response in the transfer market. It was difficult too to deny that Fulham’s superiority on Tuesday came down to simple quality. Monk’s anger post-Birmingham, his outspoken criticism, was unusually harsh so early on, comparable to Kevin Blackwell’s takedown of his players two games into the 2006-07 season.
Blackwell went on the attack after Leeds conceded a late equaliser at Queens Park Rangers. He gave his side a going-over, even though their first two fixtures had yielded four points. In the circumstances, his comments seemed disproportionate and indicative of something else. He slated the performance but Blackwell’s real concern, his real frustration, was the underlying feeling that the resources available to him were some way below what was needed in the Championship.
On Saturday it felt as if Monk’s message was the same: that the second half was poor, that the second half was unacceptable but more to the point, that the weak spots in his line-up – weak spots which everyone watching could see – were costing him and preventing his style from taking hold.
Bridcutt had to happen and talks reached a conclusion by early afternoon on Monday. It was a necessary reaction and a positive one, bringing to a head a deal which was dragging to the point of becoming ridiculous. Another central defender is a given and Torino’s Pontus Jansson, a Sweden international, is about to join on loan. Monk’s trust in Chris Wood, meanwhile, is not the same as saying that an extra goalscorer wouldn’t help.
The transfer window closes in two weeks’ time and in that period Leeds must get their numbers right. At FIFA’s behest, Championship teams are facing a long slog through to the start of January. There is no loan window and no way of plugging holes once August ends. Club who get it wrong will suffer. It is no bad thing if the start of the season has warned United against taking that risk.
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