Leeds United: Honesty has proven to be the best policy for Bamba

Sol Bamba.
Sol Bamba.
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Though Sol Bamba prefers to define his actions as not confrontational just being honest as Phil Hay discovers.

In the end it was Sol Bamba who said what everyone was thinking. His outspoken interview on the final day of last season – a critique of the running of Leeds United – had the potential to kill his career at Elland Road; a player going out in a hail of bullets.

In that respect it is true to say that Bamba’s comments were for the benefit of everyone other than him. He wanted to turn his loan from Palermo into a permanent deal and his family were anxious to stay in England.

“I suppose there was a bit at stake,” he says, “but I wasn’t thinking like that.”

Bamba called for the club’s senior management and specifically owner Massimo Cellino to “take good decisions for the club and not for anyone personally. Just for the club.” It exposed a loss of patience in an experienced player who saw problems and agendas at Elland Road and refused to stay quiet.

“If (Cellino) thinks I shouldn’t say it, that’s up to him,” Bamba said. “I speak the truth.”

What Cellino thought of the interview is not known but the honesty of it might have resonated with him. Bamba was signed permanently in June, arriving despite protracted talks which Cellino was happy to stick with, and his choice remarks were not an issue. On the contrary, his transfer came with the captaincy.

The centre-back feels too that many of his bones of contention have been dealt with in the months since he spoke out. Leeds have a head coach with apparent authority and a substantial backroom team below him. The club’s signings have been sensible and more logical than the influx a year ago, if not so numerous.

Bamba, 30, does not regret speaking his mind. “It was clear to everyone what was happening,” he says. “It was a delicate moment for everyone involved with the club but what I said needed to be said, whether by me or by someone else.

“I wasn’t trying to cause trouble or make a name for myself. It just got to the stage where I wasn’t happy with a lot of what was going on, the way it was at Leeds. If the club did listen to that then I’m glad. I wasn’t trying to start a fight with anyone. I just wanted things to change. And to be fair, they have.

“If (people) upstairs aren’t doing their job then we can’t do ours either. This club deserves to be at the top and for that you have to be prepared from the bottom to the top. It’s the people at the top who take big decisions and they’re the ones who need to take good decisions. It starts from there and it comes all the way down.”

Bamba’s relationship with Cellino was unaffected by his remarks. The Italian was happy to retain him as a transfer target in May and persisted in finding a way to prise him out of his contract at Palermo.

“We’re absolutely fine,” Bamba says. “We’ve spoken. He knows I was only looking out for the interests of the club. It wasn’t about me.

“If you look at what I actually said, it was ‘I’m saying this even if it means I don’t join Leeds’. That’s how strongly I felt.”

Bamba’s performances in the second half of last season merited further investment in him. Signed in January on a half-season loan, he was one of the players used by then head coach Neil Redfearn to wage the fight against relegation from the Championship. The club won four of Bamba’s first five games and were comfortably clear of the bottom three by the end of March.

Bamba liked and respected Redfearn – the club’s former academy manager who is in dispute with Leeds after reclaiming that job and then resigning from it – but he has been impressed by Uwe Rosler too. Rosler, who replaced Redfearn as head coach on May 20, has a reputation for maintaining strict discipline and is in charge of a squad which did not always hold together last season.

“We’ve got a new manager with new ideas,” Bamba says. “They’re new ideas about how he wants to play but also new rules in the dressing room which is good. We need discipline here.

“Things have changed, definitely. The place feels much more positive. I can see a big difference and so can other players. I want that to continue.”

Bamba had two years remaining on his deal at Palermo but he was questioning his situation there from the off. Signed last summer, he made one league appearance and was never given a proper chance to play by coach Giuseppe Iachini. According to Bamba, Iachini told him what he wanted to hear but never used him.

“To be fair I don’t know what went on there,” Bamba says. “It was a good experience in some ways because I learned Italian and my kids did too. But from a footballing point of view it wasn’t what I expected.

“I was supposed to be there to play but I didn’t have any chance at all. It was very strange. But a bad thing led to a good thing because I’m at Leeds now.

“In my mind there was never any doubt that I wanted to come back here. I couldn’t have made that any clearer. I had a few offers but my target, my number one priority, was always to come back to Leeds.

“You don’t know if it will work out because nothing’s certain and these things always take time. It wasn’t totally easy but that’s negotiations and on both sides we wanted to get it done. At the end we did a deal so I’m very happy. I’d have been really disappointed if it hadn’t gone through. My family were desperate to come here too.”

Bamba realises that this season will test his defensive ability and his fitness. Rosler likes his teams to attack in numbers and at pace, asking much of the defensive line behind them. The tactics have taken the German to the play-offs twice before, once with Brentford and once with Wigan Athletic.

“I hope we’ll be a more dangerous team this season,” Bamba said, “although I’m a defender so I’m not concerned about that!

“Seriously though, we need to find the right balance. We have to be good going forward but we maybe need to be better at keeping the door closed when we go forward. I’ve got an important role to play and so have the other defenders here. The manager’s spoken a lot about that.”