Leeds United: Midfielder Murphy sure he can step up

Luke Murphy. PIC: Tony Johnson
Luke Murphy. PIC: Tony Johnson
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The former Crewe midfielder says a tough pre-season will set him up for a first season in the championship. Phil Hay reports.

Two hard weeks in the Leeds United bubble have given Luke Murphy no reason to doubt the wisdom of his transfer to Elland Road. He, more than anyone, felt the benefit of the demands of 10 days away on tour.

Murphy left England with the remnants of a niggle sustained last season but returned on Wednesday feeling fit and fresh.

Like Matt Smith, another player signed by Leeds from League One, Murphy’s eyes were opened to the standards of training set by a Championship club.

“We’ve been worked really hard,” he said, “but that’s what you need to play at the next level.”

The Championship is the next level for Murphy, part of the PFA’s League One team of the year for 2012-13. Many who know him and watch him regularly believe the climb in divisions will be no problem. The fact that Leeds and Blackburn Rovers fought so aggressively to sign him implies that Championship clubs think the same.

Murphy was close enough to a move to Ewood Park last month to think of himself as a Blackburn player.

He and Crewe Alexandra expected the deal to happen until Leeds waded in with an offer of £1million and lined up their most expensive signing for years.

A respectful Smith thanked Rovers and turned them down after a chat and a coffee with Brian McDermott.

Almost a fortnight on, the 23-year-old cuts a contented figure. “I’ve got no regrets at all,” he said.

“This was the right decision for me, 100 per cent.

“I knew it would be a great move and nothing in the past two weeks has made me think otherwise.

“I’ve always said that the other offers I had were very appealing and there’s no disrespect from me but this was such a big opportunity. I’d have regretted not taking it.

“It’s been hard so far but I didn’t expect anything else. There’s something wrong if you don’t feel like you’re pushing yourself in pre-season.

“Going to a hot country like Slovenia was great for us. It’s really demanding and it lets you get a good amount of fitness in the bank.

“I’m feeling really good and I’ve been looking forward to getting back to England. The season’s starting to close in.”

For a short time Murphy was on the list of players earmarked by McDermott for gentle treatment. His fitness was lacking when he signed for Leeds and United’s manager used him for just 13 minutes in the first friendly of the summer at Farsley. The build-up has been gradual for Murphy, continuing with a 63-minute appearance against Ferencvaros in Slovenia on Tuesday.

He could feature for longer at Walsall tomorrow.

“I’m getting fitter each day,” Murphy said. “I came on for 15 minutes or so in the first game because I hadn’t done too much training up to that point. I got a little niggle at the end of last season and I carried that through the summer so I’ve had to take my time.

“But that’s not a problem any more and it was good from the manager. He spoke to me and said he wanted to ease me in rather than take any silly risks at this time of year. It’s just given me the chance to get myself right.

“I’ve been abroad in pre-season before, I went to Bulgaria and that was hot, but I found the intensity of training with Leeds a lot higher. The staff here push you hard. It’s non-stop and that’s what you need to play at a higher level. I’m taking a step up this year so it’s no bad thing for me to be working as hard as we have. I’m getting used to it and I want more of it.”

It is early still to make predictions with McDermott’s requirements in the transfer market as yet unfulfilled but Murphy’s view is that United’s current squad will be “in the mix” at the top end of the division. The bookmakers agree but only tentatively, generally listing Leeds as ninth in the list of favourites for promotion from the Championship.

Transfer activity in the division has been sporadic since May but certain signings have attracted attention.

Wigan Athletic spent heavily on James Perch, Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune and Queens Park Rangers are ambitiously chasing Celtic’s Gary Hooper, once a target of Leeds’.

There is money around though most of it resides in the pockets of clubs who descended from the Premier League in May with multi-million pound parachute payments.

Murphy watched the Championship from a distance last season and saw how even the division was. “I can’t see it being any less competitive,” he said. “I think it’ll be wide open again.

“I was well aware of what was going on there last season. I think it’s getting better each year, with English players dropping down from the Premier League because of the amount of foreign players playing up there.

“It’ll be just as tough and tight this year but I think we’ll be in the mix.”

In flashes, Murphy’s ability as a ball-playing midfielder has shown itself during United’s four friendlies.

Their last two games in Slovenia were tight and physical but he did not look out of place. Walsall tomorrow and Stevenage on Tuesday might give him more room for manoeuvre. Both clubs know him well.

He is not blase about the standards of the Championship or the likelihood of him flourishing in the country’s second division.

He also disagrees with those who think that the change of leagues will cause him no problems or no challenge.

“I don’t think it’ll be an easy step at all,” Murphy said. “It would be stupid of me to say that.

“The step from League One to the Championship is a big one and I’ve found that out from the intensity of our training.

You’ve got to be that bit fitter and expressing what I did in League One last season won’t be easy.

“But I think I can do it.”

Pontus Jansson.

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