Leeds United making contingency plans for the Eddie Nketiah, Kiko Casilla and Jack Clarke ifs and buts - Graham Smyth
January is a noisy month, transfer talk rises from its constant background murmur to a crescendo of shouty speculation by the 31st, but Leeds United are expecting a nice, quiet one.
The Whites are not anticipating a lot of transfer activity, either in or out of Elland Road, during Victor Orta’s least-favourite window, not least because Profit and Sustainability rules prevent them spending big.
But, armed with the knowledge that circumstances could force their hand and experience that tells them if something is going to happen, it’s going to happen to Leeds, United are busy making contingency plans for the ifs and buts.
The big ‘if’ that could send director of football Victor Orta back into the transfer market is the Eddie Nketiah conundrum.
Should he stay or should he go now? If he stays, there will be trouble for Leeds’ Championship rivals, but if he goes Orta has whittled down a list of potential replacements and a shortlist is in place.
Leeds’ preference is obvious. Why wouldn’t they want the Arsenal youngster to stay?
Marcelo Bielsa has expressed his hope publicly that the striker remains at Elland Road for the rest of the season and, in an eyebrow-raising twist, for one more year after that.
Bristol City have, a little mischievously, gone on record to make sure everyone is well aware they would still be willing to accept Nketiah, despite his summer snub of a season under Lee Johnson’s command.
And you can be sure that more than one club will be whispering to Arsenal that a move away from Elland Road in January would benefit both Nketiah and the Gunners.
Ultimately, as Bielsa has said, the choice is Nketiah’s and the options before him all contain a degree of uncertainty.
Patrick Bamford is unlikely to start every single game for Leeds between now and the end of the season, Nketiah scored his way into Bielsa’s plans once – until injury cruelly intervened – and could well do so again.
With Nketiah sidelined, Bamford ended his goalscoring drought and threw down the gauntlet to Nketiah with a complete performance against Middlesbrough.
Whether or not it is a challenge Nketiah fancies remains to be seen but, if he stays put, the likliehood is he will be part of a Leeds squad challenging for automatic promotion.
So why sacrifice a chance to win a title, for a chance to compete for a play-off spot? And why go against the gut instinct that brought you to the club in the first place, particularly when nothing about your situation has changed?
There were no guarantees of a starting place when Nketiah agreed to cut the apron strings and go out on loan to Leeds, the goalposts have not been shifted.
Bielsa has stuck with Bamford, but Nketiah was eventually given a chance – it was an injury and not Bielsa that robbed him of it. Another chance will surely come and Leeds are quietly confident that Nketiah will still be a Leeds player on February 1.
If not, they will have to take their share of the blame, seek a replacement and get on with it.
Elsewhere in the squad, there are events that could occur that would remove players from Bielsa’s squad, yet they would not necessarily require the recruitment department to leap into action.
Kiko Casilla has a charge of racism hanging over his head and could find himself banned.
But in Ilan Meslier, Leeds have a goalkeeper who has impressed at Thorp Arch since arriving from FC Lorient on loan. If necessary, the French youngster will get his chance.
Jack Clarke could go back to Tottenham, but the new deal handed to Jordan Stevens and his appearance on the bench against Boro puts him in prime position to fill any vacancy left by the Spurs winger.
Ultimately, a player well versed in the ways of Bielsa is preferable to a player coming in cold, needing weeks if not months to adapt. So if, in January, there is no news, it’s good news for Leeds United.