Previous managerial searches conducted by Leeds United have run farther into the summer than this but not by much. As time ticks on so much at Elland Road is hovering in the air, waiting to drop as players across England enjoy the tail end of their holiday.
United’s squad will end theirs earlier than planned if the club’s attempt to snare Marcelo Bielsa pays off but the belated sacking of Paul Heckingbottom and the unsurprising complexity of talks with Bielsa leave Leeds in a poised state with pre-season around the corner.
It is often the way at Elland Road, where 10 consecutive managers have failed to complete two seasons back to back. Leeds were in a similar position last summer when Thomas Christiansen took the head coach’s job on June 15 and again in 2014, the year in which Massimo Cellino produced David Hockaday from nowhere on June 19. Even now, with Bielsa on the verge of taking over at Elland Road, United have kept the door ajar to fallback options including former River Plate manager Matias Almeyda. Almeyda formally parted company with Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara on Monday.
Bielsa is different to Christiansen and Hockaday in almost every respect but not least in terms of expectations in the transfer market. Neither Christiansen nor Hockaday made big demands about signings and, particularly in Christiansen’s case, offered little opposition to the deals that were done. Leeds’ delay in making a single signing so far, despite their wide scouting network and clear interest in certain players, reflects the fact that a coach with Bielsa’s clout would want the squad to be built in his image.
United have been speaking with Abel Hernandez, the Hull City striker, for several weeks without taking those discussions to a conclusion, and it emerged on Sunday that more quiet discussions have been held with Derby County about the availability of Matej Vydra, the Championship’s top scorer.
Bielsa is understood to admire Vydra, though competition for the Czech forward might prove to be more intense despite Hernandez being out of contract.
West Bromwich Albion – newly relegated to the Championship and a side who loaned Vydra from Watford in 2013 – are believed to be tracking the 26-year-old and would be in a position to pay a considerably higher wage. News of Derby’s willingness to sell Vydra as a means of cutting costs will attract other bidders to a player who scored 22 times last season.
A centre-forward was one of three key priorities for Leeds, alongside a goalkeeper and a new centre-back. Swansea City’s Kyle Bartley was top of the club’s list of central defenders but United have so far failed to progress with Swansea, who themselves were without a head coach before securing Graham Potter from Swedish club Ostersund on Monday. Brentford’s John Egan has also been looked at, though United are not thought to have made any approach for him.
Manchester City youngster Angus Gunn remains the prime goalkeeper target, a deal which could be made easier by Bielsa’s prior relationship with City manager Pep Guardiola, but United have been weighing up the potential signing of the more experienced David Stockdale, a player who Birmingham City want to move off their wage bill.
In other areas, Leeds are among the clubs who would be interested in a loan deal for young Liverpool winger Harry Wilson – a loanee at Hull last season – but the weight of Premier League attention around him could take him elsewhere. Leeds, in any case, need to balance incoming signings with some outgoing transfers and, to date, only youngster Madger Gomes has left Elland Road.
Where talks with Bielsa are concerned, pre-season is the most pertinent timescale. Bielsa would want United’s players back at Thorp Arch next week for the start of four weeks of intense training and one way or the other they will return in no later than 11 days’ time.
Leeds lie seven weeks from the start of the season and eight away from the EFL deadline for permanent signings. They are in a world of advanced negotiations, ready for something or someone to stick.