Neil Warnock has revealed that Luke Varney will be used to fill the gap left by Robert Snodgrass as he urged Leeds United to move on quickly from the sale of the Scotland international.
Warnock admitted that Snodgrass’ move to Norwich City last night on a three-year deal had heightened the pressure on him to secure his “marquee signings” but Varney is set to operate as Snodgrass’ replacement next season after joining Leeds from Portsmouth in a £200,000 deal.
The 29-year-old forward made his first appearance for the club in Wednesday’s pre-season friendly at Bodmin Town. Varney started the game on the left wing but drifted into a free role behind Andy Gray and Ross McCormack, scoring the opening goal in a 4-0 win.
Warnock planned to use Snodgrass in a similar role next season but that strategy has been wrecked by Norwich’s successful bid to sign United’s club captain. Snodgrass passed a medical on Wednesday, 24 hours after City’s £3m offer was officially accepted, and he returned to Carrow Road yesterday to put the finishing touches to his transfer.
United are to receive a payment of £1.5m up front and Warnock is intensifying his search for further signings, with strikers high on his list of priorities. The departure of Snodgrass could see Leeds step up their interest in West Ham United forward Nicky Maynard.
But Warnock is optimistic that Varney’s arrival will compensate for the creative qualities of Snodgrass and the 13 goals scored by the Scottish winger last season. Varney’s tally during the 2011-12 Championship campaign totalled six.
“I’ve always been trying to sign Luke Varney for that role,” Warnock said. “I’m sure Luke can get double figures in the Championship and we need double figures from someone in that position.
“You’ve seen Rob’s contribution over the years and I had to make sure we covered that. But we’ve got to get other signings too – marquee signings if you like – and that was the case before Rob left. It’s still the case now.”
Asked about the challenge of stepping into Snodgrass’ shoes, Varney said: “I don’t think we’re here to replace anyone. We’re all here do our own jobs. But I must admit that when I signed he was one of the players I was looking forward to playing with. It’s unfortunate, but he’s a young lad and he can’t miss his chance of playing in the Premier League. I’m sure the fans are disappointed, as the players are, but we’ll move on.”
Snodgrass’ departure after four seasons at Elland Road marks the end of a long-running campaign by the Canaries to sign him and a tireless fight by Warnock to try and persuade the 24-year-old to commit himself to Leeds for another season.
His contract had less than 12 months to run and Snodgrass resisted the offer of a new deal, described by Warnock as the most lucrative offered to a player by United in “almost a decade”. As revealed in the YEP yesterday, the unnamed figures behind a proposed takeover of Leeds were involved in last-minute attempts to tie Snodgrass down.
But Norwich’s interest has been clear since they bid around £3.5m for the former Livingston winger last summer, and an offer of £1.5mat the beginning of last week was improved ahead of Leeds’ first pre-season friendly at Farsley.
Snodgrass travelled with Leeds on their tour of Devon and Cornwall in what appears to have been a final effort by Warnock to keep him close, but the United manager claimed the time was right to resolve the uncertainty over Snodgrass’ future with the Championship season due to start in three weeks’ time.
“It’s one of those things,” he said. “You don’t want it to happen and you can tell by the way I’ve been going on that I had no intention of letting him go without a fight. But there comes a point where you have to be a realistic and you have to move on.
“I don’t think we could let it fester. It could only go on so long. There’s no way we could have a situation where we’re in the last week of pre-season and suddenly he goes. We’d have been completely flummoxed then.
“We’ve got to plan without him but we’ve got time to plan without him and in the next two or three weeks I can set about putting everything in place and the icing on the cake.
“I didn’t want him to leave but if he had to leave then it was better happening now than in a month’s time. At least we know where we stand.
“But I really did think we could persuade him to stay for another year. There’s been a lot of (speculation) about Rob, going right back to the time when I first came into Leeds, but I thought we had a good chance.
“I’ve spoken to him so many times and he knew how I felt but I do think his head was turned.
“I’m sure there are people at Norwich who know Rob, inside the dressing room and outside the dressing room, and it’s quite understandable if he sees it as an attractive move.
“If you were in his boots would you do the same? That’s the question you’ve got to ask.
“I thought he’d be better off sticking with us, but some people would disagree. He obviously did.”
City were promoted to the Premier League in 2011 and avoided relegation last year, in part with the help of two others players signed from Leeds, Bradley Johnson and Jonathan Howson.
And in following Howson to Norfolk, Snodgrass is the second club captain to leave for Norwich in the space of six months.
Warnock sought to earn Snodgrass’ commitment with the promise of promotion from the Championship next season but the prolonged wait for completion of takeover negotiations at Elland Road has hampered United’s recruitment drive.
Warnock, however, is still convinced that the planned buy-out of Leeds will strengthen the club significantly in the weeks and months that follow it.
The United boss said: “I’ve been let down by loads of players who I’d have put my life on sticking by me over my career. So nothing surprises me.
“Rob wants to play in the Premier League and he wants to play for Scotland regularly and he thinks this is the right way to make that happen.
“I think Leeds – if we get the right backing now – could be a far bigger club in 12 months’ time than the club he’s going to but that’s my opinion, not his, and time will tell.
“There are a lot of questions but it’s gone now and we’ve got to move on. There’s no one player bigger than a club – I’ve always said that wherever I’ve been.”