Leeds United: January still offers a window of opportunity – Ritchie

Stephen Warnock.
Stephen Warnock.
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When I think of a transfer embargo, I think of the shutters coming down. No signings, no loans, no anything.

This punishment that Leeds United are getting from the Football League in January is something very different. It’s like the League are closing the door but deciding not to bolt it. I really don’t see the point of it.

As an ex-Leeds player, I’m very happy that the club will be able to make new signings next month.

They need some fresh blood. But as a man in the street, this embargo system looks a bit crazy. If it’s supposed to be a deterrent for clubs who think about overspending then it’s a pretty poor effort.

Anyway, rules are rules and I’m sure Leeds will be able to work around them.

I’ve noticed that over the past few weeks Massimo Cellino and Neil Redfearn have started talking about the possibility of new arrivals so I’d guess that they already had an inkling about the loopholes in the Football League’s rules. And I’m sure they both agree that an influx of players, even a small one, is necessary.

It seems strange saying that when 15 new signings were made in the summer but if you look back at those deals, you’ll see a trend. A lot of the lads who arrived were young, raw, new to England and offering potential.

Back then it was impossible to predict how easily they’d knit together in the league like the Championship.

Now that we’re reaching the end of December it’s not unfair to say that they need a bit of a helping hand. It’s like Redfearn says – the team is lacking a bit of Championship know-how. I’ve never seen much of Serie B so it’s hard to know how the standard of that league compares to the Championship but I know for a fact that Italian football and English football are very different.

There’s talent in the Leeds squad, plenty of it, but you have to remember that a lot of players in Redfearn’s side are yet to have a full season in the Championship.

Like anyone, they need time to learn and adapt to the environment and they need hardened players around them to keep them going when things get tough.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Tommaso Bianchi make an interesting comparison between the second divisions in England and Italy. His point was that in Serie B you have four or five quality teams.

In the Championship virtually every side is good enough to turn it on and good enough to push you hard on any given weekend.

With a full year behind them, guys like Bianchi will have a much better knowledge of how the Championship works, what it demands of you physically and mentally and what you have to do to succeed in it.

At the moment, with Leeds in 19th place, I’d argue that we’re seeing the consequence of an awful lot of players learning on the job.

Put the right signings in key positions – say one in the centre of defence and one in the centre of midfield – and I honestly think it would make a world of difference. It would probably give the new lads (including someone like Lewis Cook) the confidence they need to do their thing. It’s a bit like a safety net.

You can play your football and take a few risks in the knowledge that a few old heads are watching your back.

As it is, the club are asking a lot of certain people and the young lads especially.

Obviously it’s possible that someone like Cook will be outstanding all season, a bit like Sam Byram was two years ago, but it’s not fair to expect that of him.

It’s only right to plan for the possibility that his form, or that of Alex Mowatt or Adryan for example, will dip at some point.

That’s when your older guys have to step in. That’s when a manager would have said to me ‘you’re one of our experienced lads, get out there and hold things together.”

Leeds don’t have enough players like that. They don’t have enough Stephen Warnocks.

I’m not calling for 11 Warnocks from front to back but a core of players of his ilk through the team would really bring the best out of some gifted footballers.

That’s the opportunity the club have been given by this weird embargo or whatever the Football League wants to call it. I really hope they take it.