Max Gradel is back on Leeds United’s radar after the Elland Road club made the first move towards recapturing their one-time player of the year.
The Yorkshire Evening Post understands that an enquiry about Gradel’s availability was made in the past week amid on-going attempts by manager Neil Warnock to strengthen his squad before the end of January.
A deal to sign the popular winger – voted Leeds’ best performer in 2011 – is likely to be complex with Gradel under contract at St Etienne until 2015 and the French club reluctant to sell him in this transfer window, but the 25-year-old has spoken previously of the attraction of returning to English football.
Gradel was a product of Leicester City’s academy and turned professional at the Walkers Stadium before moving to Leeds for a fee of around £200,000 in January 2010.
He featured prominently in the squad which won promotion from League One in 2011 but was sold to St Etienne for close to £2million later that year with United unable to agree an extension to his contract. He left Leeds with a record of 25 goals in 84 games.
Speaking last month after rumours of a move back to Elland Road first materialised, Gradel said: “I have a contract here (at St Etienne) until June 2015, I’ve settled well and I’m enjoying my football. But I’m a lover of English football and its atmosphere. I’m 25 years old and I know my love affair with English football is not finished yet so you never know.
“At the moment my French club is doing well so I am happy here but things happen quickly in football.”
Gradel is currently present at the African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast’s national squad but his involvement in the tournament in South Africa has not stopped Leeds from exploring the possibility of signing him.
His salary in France could prove prohibitive, however, with the winger thought to be earning more than £20,000 a week – a wage above that of any player in the Elland Road squad.
United’s new owner, GFH Capital, is still to demonstrate the full extent of its financial clout following its buy-out of Leeds shortly before Christmas.
But manager Neil Warnock admitted yesterday that he was prioritising the recruitment of attacking players with the January window set to close in a week’s time, and former United loanee Jerome Thomas appeared to open the door to another approach from Leeds by revealing that West Brom are yet to approach him for negotiations about a new deal.
Thomas, who played six times for Leeds during a brief loan at the club in November and December, returned to The Hawthorns at the start of this month with the intention of winning an extension to a deal which expires in the summer, but the former Arsenal trainee said: “We’ve had no discussions with the manager or hierarchy.
“Is this a window to force a new contract? My performances should do that but I’d have thought my performances over the last few seasons would have done that anyway.”
Albion were widely expected to retain Thomas this month regardless of his contractual situation after seeing their squad weakened by the loss of Zoltan Gera to a serious knee injury.