The fascination of a club’s pre-season is often the sight of unfamiliar faces mixing with more established players.
It was away at Shelbourne in 2008 – the venue where Leeds United will play this week – that an unknown Argentine laced up his boots and began fighting for a deal at Elland Road.
Next to nothing was known about Luciano Becchio when he arrived without much warning on United’s summer tour eight years ago. Leeds were a few days into their three-match trip, fresh from a 2-0 win over Galway United, when the striker flew in from Spanish side Merida UD to start a trial under Gary McAllister.
His opportunity was arranged by Gwyn Williams, Leeds’ then technical director, and McAllister seemed instantly impressed. Strong in the air and blessed with a sharp finish, Becchio made his first appearance in a 1-1 draw at Tolka Park on July 23 and did enough in a handful of training sessions to avoid the fate of so many trialists.
Becchio’s pedigree was underlined by his background. Having started his career with Boca Juniors in Argentina, he moved to Spain in 2003 and completed spells with the ‘B’ squads at Mallorca and Barcelona. His record at Merida – a Spanish third division side – showed a goal from every two games and his performance against Shelbourne earned him another run-out at Barnet later that week.
By that stage, Leeds and McAllister were set on agreeing terms with Merida and tying Becchio down. The clubs negotiated an undisclosed fee, worth six figures to Merida, and Leeds and Becchio soon shook hands on a three-year contract.
“We’d had reports on Luciano, seen DVDs, and had a good look at him in training,” McAllister said. “We were very keen to get him in and he’ll be a real threat for us.
“I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen of him in the games and although he’s lacking in match fitness, he realises that and we still have 10 days before the season starts. He’s working hard.”
Jermaine Beckford was United’s leading goalscorer and it was no surprise to see Becchio start the League One season on the bench, behind another new signing in Enoch Showunmi.
But his first touch as a substitute in a 2-1 victory at Scunthorpe United on the first day of the campaign – a 20-yard strike – rattled the crossbar, underlining his eye for goal.
Becchio made his full league debut against Yeovil Town a fortnight later and scored in the first minute, again with his first touch.
Another goal followed in an easy League Cup win over Crystal Palace and by mid-November the forward had reached double figures.
His form was not enough to save McAllister’s job and the Scot was sacked midway through the campaign, but replacement Simon Grayson quickly picked up on Becchio’s talent.
The striker’s first season in England was to end in the League One play-off semi-finals, a two-legged clash with Millwall in which Becchio lifted the roof at Elland Road with a deadly finish at the end of a brilliant attack by Leeds.
Disappointment followed as Jimmy Abdou’s close-range strike settled the tie soon after but Becchio, with 19 goals, went down as the signing of the season.
He would go on to make the top 10 of league goalscorers at United with 75 to his name.