Leeds United draw on public advice from greatest rival Man United with shrewd transfer tactic

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Leeds United completed the signing of 31-year-old goalkeeper Alex Cairns from Salford City earlier this week.

The former Thorp Arch academy graduate returns to Elland Road nine years after leaving the club.

Cairns has turned out for Fleetwood Town, Stalybridge Celtic and Salford since his one-and-only Leeds appearance. He is expected to take up a third-choice goalkeeper role for the Whites, a pragmatic measure to ensure United satisfy EFL ‘club-trained player’ squad requirements.

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A similar - and in some cases identical - practice has been employed by several clubs, particularly by those higher in the English football pyramid. Leeds’ great rivals Manchester United recently extended veteran stopper Tom Heaton’s contract, who turned 38 in April, but came through at Old Trafford as a youngster two decades ago.

Similarly, Newcastle United brought boyhood supporter and former Carlisle United, Walsall and Motherwell goalkeeper Mark Gillespie back to St James’ Park in 2020, which Cairns’ move mirrors.

Between Heaton and Gillespie, the pair have made three appearances each for their respective clubs, none of which were in the Premier League.

A further explanation for Cairns’ return is the cost-saving Leeds are expected to make. Remaining in the Championship for a second consecutive season means belt-tightening is a necessity, and cutting down on the wages of a squad’s third-choice goalkeeper, who is only likely to feature at most a handful of times, is prudent financial practice.

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Previous No. 3 between the posts Kris Klaesson has departed for Raków Częstochowa in Poland, having arrived three summers ago as a reputed up-and-coming youth international who could one day challenge for the No. 1 spot at Elland Road. That did not come to fruition for the Norwegian.

The 23-year-old has already admitted to Norwegian outlet VG that his new deal in Poland’s top flight does not match the contract he was on at Leeds, financially, but in a bid to feature regularly has deemed that a price worth paying. While no professional footballer’s contract these days is ‘cheap’ by any means, certainly not in layman’s terms, Leeds are expected to have replaced Klaesson’s role in the squad, satisfied an EFL requirement that may have become an issue following club-trained duo Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton’s exit, all for a lower comparable financial outlay.

While some may view the signing a cost-cutting exercise or reflective of a lack of ambition, Leeds can point to the Premier League champions as an example. Former Whites academy ‘keeper Scott Carson is Manchester City’s third-choice stopper, almost certainly taking up far fewer resources than an ‘ambitious’ selection as goalkeeper number three.

Even teams in Leeds’ division, possibly challenging the Whites at the summit of the table come the end of the season, have employed a similar tactic. Burnley recruited Lawrence Vigoroux from Leyton Orient last summer, the Chilean goalkeeper moving up three leagues in the process having never made an appearance above the third tier in English football.

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In 12 months at Turf Moor, he is yet to make an appearance, but as a homegrown player, in the eyes of Burnley’s key decision-makers, fulfils an important function.

Consternation among supporters at the lack of signings, compared to the several outgoings Leeds have sanctioned so far this summer, is understandable. However, Leeds are already in a much stronger position than at the same stage last year. Important boxes have been ticked, such as Joe Rodon’s permanent addition and Cairns’ arrival, whilst raising funds here and there from player sales and moving on under-utilised members of Daniel Farke’s squad last season.

In theory, the early window business should allow Leeds a free run at the middle and back end of this summer’s transfer period, gradually adding to the first-team group without needing to pause, reassess, offload and resume negotiations with incoming targets.

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