Leeds United: A frustrating May for Neil Warnock

Pompey's Joel Ward.
Pompey's Joel Ward.
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Neil Warnock’s vision of a successful summer included a minimum of three signings in the month of May. As things stand he will start his holiday on Friday in disappointed mood, beset by a lack of progress.

The Leeds United manager wanted the earliest stages of the transfer window to revitalise his patchy squad and build the spine of a competitive team at Elland Road.

Instead, his concerns have multiplied with one played signed, another seemingly outwith his immediate spending power and three of Leeds’ existing players reluctant to commit to new contracts.

Warnock made the start he wanted when a £500,000 deal for Jason Pearce was agreed with Portsmouth on May 4 but three weeks of inactivity since that signing have reiterated the scale of the task on his hands and the complications he could face as the close season wears on.

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The 63-year-old planned to have two more deals completed last week and said he would be “disappointed” if they failed to materialise. Disappointed he was.

Likewise, his remark on April 28 – the last day of the Championship season – that “I go away at the end of May and I want to have at least three or four lads lined up by that stage” will have been wishful thinking unless the next 48 hours bring sudden developments.

A fortnight ago Leeds joined the bidding for Portsmouth right-back Joel Ward, negotiating a fee with Portsmouth’s administrators and inviting the defender north for talks.

Ward spoke with Warnock at United’s Thorp Arch training complex on May 9 having flown up from Southampton to discuss a transfer.

The deal has been pending for almost two weeks, with Ward – one of Portsmouth’s lower earners – understood to favour a move to Leeds over interest from Crystal Palace, Ipswich Town, Burnley and Blackpool, but the YEP understands that United have as yet been unable to raise the money needed to pay an up-front fee of around £400,000.

The 22-year-old is one of Warnock’s main targets but sources close to the proposed transfer were indicating today that Ward is increasingly likely to take up a different offer.

Meanwhile, firm suggestions that Derby County midfielder Paul Green could seal a free transfer to Elland Road before the end of last week also came to nothing, despite solid interest from Leeds.

Warnock is understood to have spoken with United chief executive Shaun Harvey on Monday, discussing face-to-face the bid for Ward and progress with other potential signings.

The pressure to ensure a consistent stream of arrivals at Elland Road is being increased by uncertainty about the future of three current squad members.

Warnock revealed last week that Leeds could be forced to listen to offers for Ross McCormack after the striker’s agent indicated that he was unwilling to sign the improved deal put to him.

McCormack is under contract for another 12 months but would be a free agent this time next year.

That development was followed yesterday by the suggestion that Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Aidan White will also reject a new contract at Elland Road and leave the club when his current deal expires at the end of next month.

Warnock, who has described the terms put to White as “very good”, said: “I don’t expect he will accept the offer from what I was told by his advisors.”

White’s camp told the YEP that the 20-year-old’s preference was to stay at Elland Road but said he was looking for a “fair package”.

White was heavily linked with Scottish champions Celtic over the weekend and is free to speak with rival clubs, though Leeds stand to receive compensation for him whether he joins an English club or moves abroad.

FIFA regulations state that a fee is due when a “professional is transferred between clubs of two different associations (whether during or at the end of his contract) before the end of the season of his 23rd birthday.”

White’s exit from Elland Road has seemed likely ever since he rejected an initial offer put to him last year but major question marks are hanging over club captain Robert Snodgrass after comments made by him at a community event at Hampden Park in Glasgow on Monday.

Snodgrass is weighing up an enhanced contract which would make him United’s highest earner but he is far from decided about whether to accept the wage rise, admitting to doubts about pledges of investment in the squad at Leeds this summer and a promise by Warnock to find the Scotland international a move to the Premier League next year if Leeds fail to win promotion during the forthcoming season.

Warnock has suggested that he might retain Snodgrass until at least Christmas regardless of whether he accepts a new deal but the 24-year-old is out of contract in a year’s time and his financial value would drop rapidly during the remainder of his deal.

Snodgrass said: “He (Warnock) has already said he won’t be sticking around as manager for much longer. Who knows whether he’s got one or two more years left at Leeds?

“If it’s one year and I don’t sign the contract then I’ll be free next year. If I do sign I’d have another year left and be in the same situation I am now.

“So it’s alright for him to say he could get me a move but if he leaves then the people up above him in the football club are not going to worry about what he said.

“My future doesn’t lie in the hands of Neil Warnock, it’s in the hands of Robert Snodgrass.

“The chairman (Ken Bates) is trying to put a bit of pressure on me. He’s telling me what plans he’s got for the club. But they told me the same type of plans the season before and it didn’t work out. So it’s hard to buy into these things again.”

A more positive piece of news is the prospect of defender Tom Lees agreeing an improvement to a contract which already runs until 2015.

United opened negotiations with Lees earlier this month with the aim of bringing the 21-year-old’s salary in line with some of their more substantial earners and he is close to putting pen to paper after further talks last week.