Kiko Casilla was a signing which should have boxed off the goalkeeping position at Leeds United for a few years to come. Real Madrid wanted no transfer fee but Casilla shot to the top of the wage bill at Elland Road, a marquee deal which left Marcelo Bielsa joking about Casilla’s sanity.
Four months on the club have issues on two fronts: a first choice whose salary might force them to move him on and a second-choice who indicated on Thursday that he would look to depart himself if regular games were not on offer next season. There was a subsequent attempt by Bailey Peacock-Farrell to tone down those comments but the number one shirt is up in the air with no guarantee about who will catch it.
Casilla’s half-season in United’s line-up was clouded in the end by a flurry of mistakes and a critical lapse of judgement during the Leeds’ play-off semi-final defeat to Derby County but it is his weekly wage, in excess of £30,000, which United are more concerned about; a weekly wage which would have been more than affordable in the Premier League but is harder to carry in the EFL.
Peacock-Farrell, Bielsa’s preferred choice in goal during the first half of this term, is on a far smaller salary and out of contract next summer, three years after signing his current deal. He features on a list of players who United plan to offer extensions to, alongside Kemar Roofe, Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips, but any offers will wait until the club have dealt with initial transfer business in and out of Elland Road.
Should Casilla go and a replacement arrive, Peacock-Farrell has already seen that hierarchies which establish themselves under Bielsa are organic rather than preordained. Leeds signed Jamal Blackman on loan from Chelsea last summer with a view to him starting the season as first choice but Bielsa was unhappy with Blackman’s weight and conditioning and gave Peacock-Farrell the gloves instead.
Even when Peacock-Farrell was dropped in January, displaced by Casilla at a time when Leeds sat at the top of the Championship, Bielsa predicted that the 22-year-old would come again. “He will play as a starter in the future,” Bielsa said, “and we have to contribute to take advantage of the time when there are less demanding goals for him. He is a very good asset for Leeds.”
United’s results were impressive with Peacock-Farrell behind their defence, better statistically than during Casilla’s run in the team, but his form and assurance concerned Bielsa in the run-up to Christmas and there were few arguments when the club made a beeline for another keeper in the January window.
Peacock-Farrell, though, is in danger of losing the impetus he gained during his run in the side and has a place in the Northern Ireland team to protect too. Northern Ireland’s coach, Michael O’Neill, was not dissuaded from calling him up after Casilla’s arrival at Leeds but Peacock-Farrell has moved beyond the stage where a seat on the bench at club or international level appeals to him.
“If I stay at Leeds I’ll be staying at Leeds to play,” he said on Thursday. “The two scenarios would probably be I’m staying at Leeds and I’m playing or I’ll have to be elsewhere, I think.”
United took a dim view of those remarks and Peacock-Farrell clarified his situation a few hours later, saying: “When you look at the stature of Leeds, the level of club that it is, you can’t get anywhere better to play. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else out of choice, to a certain extent.”
Bielsa might admire Peacock-Farrell’s ambition or bristle at the sound of something resembling an ultimatum. Either way, the youngster’s situation is part of a bigger picture in which Leeds find themselves thinking about who will occupy their net next season.
“Everything that’s gone before, that’s kind of pointless if you don’t continue making those strides,” Peacock-Farrell told the Press Association.
“You just relax and say ‘it’s good I did that’. If all of a sudden you don’t play next season, you’ve gone nowhere.
“It’s not even levelling off, it’s taking a step backwards because you’re not maintaining the strides forward you expect and I hold myself to.
“The aim is to be playing football, I have to, for selfish reasons.
“I’m not one of those goalkeepers who’s maybe content with sitting on the bench and picking up a wage.”