Leeds United will be hit by a transfer embargo – but it may not be an outright ban on signing players during the upcoming January transfer window.
Nothing at Leeds United is ever black or white. Massimo Cellino is proof of that. Will he sidestep his Football League ban or will this disqualification stick? Is he here for the foreseeable or is the club on the road to another sale?
Next month’s transfer embargo is equally devoid of clarity.
It’s coming – without question it’s coming – but the belief at Elland Road is that the January window will not be an entirely closed shop. It will not be a free market either but the scope for new signings could exist, in a certain fashion and at a certain price.
There’s a caveat to any conjecture about squad-building, forward planning or future objectives: the glaring possibility that Cellino will not escape the corner he is in.
Earlier this week he made it clear that he is prepared to resign from United’s board while he fights his disqualification.
The £23.5m injection he and Gulf Finance House announced as recently as last Thursday has been suspended pending the outcome of Cellino’s appeal.
Leeds cannot carry on regardless, presuming the net will untangle itself.
All the same, the club are speaking about transfers and thinking about the January window.
They won’t be free to deal as they please next month but there’s a heavy suggestion that the embargoes handed down by the Football League will be laced with loopholes.
In effect, Leeds expect to be able to make a small handful of signings.
That the club are destined for an embargo is not in dispute.
The Football League is yet to determine which sides are in breach of its Financial Fair Play rules but United’s accounts show a loss of almost £23m last season, a figure far in excess of the FFP limit.
No amount of clever accounting would fudge the issue and Leeds have not even tried. Part of the reason why 15 new players came to Elland Road in the summer window was because Cellino expected to have his hands tied in January, if not exactly in the way they are now.
The grey area which Leeds might seek to exploit is complicated.
They anticipate that in tandem with an embargo, the Football League will soften the impact by allowing clubs to maintain a squad of a certain size.
The players who count towards a set quota will not include any under the age of 21 or any who have made a small number of appearances this season (five, for the sake of argument).
As big as the squad at Elland Road is, there are numerous professionals who fall into one or both of those categories.
The club would almost certainly be prevented from paying fees for any signings but they suspect that the League will permit the arrival of players whose individual wage packages costs the club no more than £600,000 pro rata (around £300,000 at the midway point of the season). That sum equates to more than £10,000 a week.
Cellino is not in the habit of paying high wages.
The contracts he gives out tend to be incentivised – sweetened with goal bonuses and other add-ons.
Over the past month he and his sporting director, Nicola Salerno, have spent some time looking at the transfer market, despite the knowledge that an embargo is coming.
The Football League was asked by the YEP to explain how tightly its embargoes will be enforced and to clarify any loopholes or exemptions.
A spokesman said the “specific embargo arrangements” would be outlined to clubs once the League confirmed which of the 24 were in breach of FFP rules.
It remains to be seen whether the uncertainty surrounding Cellino leaves any real appetite for immediate investment in players but the club are being linked again with Leonardo Pavoletti, the Sassuolo striker who almost joined the club in the last hour of the summer transfer window.
Pavoletti is 6’2” and a variation on the forwards Leeds already have. United did not fight hard to keep Matt Smith at Elland Road but despite Cellino’s concerns about Smith’s agility and versatility, he suspected that Leeds might miss his height. United have a tall forward in Steve Morison but coach after coach is declining to play him. Mirco Antenucci, Souleymane Doukara and Billy Sharp have different strengths but much the same build.
In the context of United’s meek away form, variety is what they lack.
There is real promise in the squad at Elland Road, some natural ball-players and a healthy mentality, but the club lack bite away from their own stadium.
Tommaso Bianchi embodies that problem – in his element at Elland Road, more passive and fragile elsewhere.
Neil Redfearn has harder midfielders in Rudy Austin and Michael Tonge but you sense they are not the options he wants.
Jamaica international Austin is out of contract next summer and has not been offered a new deal and Championship rivals Brighton and Hove Albion are being credited with an interest in him again.
For United’s squad to evolve properly it needs the right tweaks at the right times.
Leeds have the numbers to cope with a quiet January but the club are not in a position – in the Championship or otherwise – where they can afford to stand still; not when their away record shows five points from 10 matches and everyone from the owner down knows the jigsaw is incomplete.
It feels churlish to think about new signings when so much is hazy and an embargo awaits but the plea is the same as every other day of the week – that in the midst of everything else, the football does not get entirely forgotten.
Much ado about Steve Thompson, pictured far right, the first-team coach at Huddersfield Town who has been waiting for more than a month to up sticks and join Leeds United.
He and Neil Redfearn are former Bolton team-mates and close friends – Thompson was best man at Redfearn’s wedding – and Redfearn, inset, singled him out as his preferred assistant as soon as Massimo Cellino named him as head coach on November 1. Since then people on both sides of West Yorkshire have been waiting for the appointment to happen and wondering why, six weeks on, the arrival of Thompson at Elland Road has become so protracted.
At the outset Huddersfield asked for compensation for Thompson. Leeds refused to pay, believing that he was largely surplus to requirements. Thompson was named as Huddersfield’s assistant by Mark Robins in June but Robins survived for only one game this season and Town are now in the hands of Chris Powell. Powell’s number two is Alex Dyer.
As time went on Huddersfield’s demands dropped and then gave way altogether. As Powell admitted at his weekly press conference on Thursday, Huddersfield’s board are now willing to allow Thompson to leave for nothing and told Leeds that more than a week ago. Meanwhile, up at Thorp Arch, Redfearn said he was still waiting for a deal to fall into place.
It made for a weird and unfathomable impasse but the YEP understands that later in the day Redfearn and Massimo Cellino discussed Thompson’s situation again and agreed to get the appointment finalised. Leeds have been drawing up a contract in readiness for the 50-year-old to sign. A straightforward job made strangely difficult but perhaps Redfearn finally has his man.
There is irony aplenty in the list of potential winners of Sky Bet’s ‘transfer fund’ – a raffle which will award £250,000 to one lucky Football League club to spend in the January transfer window.
Leeds United have two supporters amongst the 10 competing for the cash on their club’s behalf.
A Nottingham Forest fan is also included. No matter the fact that both sides are heading for a transfer embargo and look likely to be prevented from doing much business next month.
Other Championship teams in with a shout might be better placed to use the money.
Wigan Athletic, Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, Fulham and Watford were also selected at random for the shortlist.
The draw takes place at Wembley this Tuesday.
In a press release, Sky’s Jim White was quoted as saying: “You can only imagine how the chairman, manager and players of the winning club are going to react when they hear the news.”
That rather depends on the outcome.