Steve Evans says Leeds United are still to decide if they will seek a permanent deal for Liam Bridcutt with the Sunderland midfielder a week away from the end of his loan at Elland Road.
Evans singled out Bridcutt for praise after Leeds’ last home game of the season on Saturday, saying his arrival at Elland Road in November had been a key factor in keeping relegation at arm’s length, but Bridcutt is likely to return to his parent club next week without any clarity about United’s intentions.
Evans would push for a deal to bring Bridcutt back to Elland Road if Leeds decide to renew his own contract as head coach but United owner Massimo Cellino is delaying an announcement about Evans’ future and is strongly rumoured to be considering appointing a replacement, despite apparent public support for the 53-year-old Scot.
Bridcutt has been an influential figure in Evans’ midfield since joining United on an emergency basis at the end of November. Leeds re-signed him in January on loan to the end of the season and Bridcutt is set to make his 28th appearance when Leeds’ Championship season ends at Preston North End this weekend.
The 26-year-old, whose form earned him a second Scotland cap in March, is no longer part of Sunderland’s plans and will be allowed to move on in the forthcoming transfer window but he has 12 months left on his contract at the Stadium of Light and a return to Leeds would require negotiation over a salary which currently stands at more than £25,000 a week.
Evans said Bridcutt had “made a big difference”, figuring in a seven-match unbeaten run over Christmas which all but ended the threat of relegation, but asked if the club were looking into a permanent transfer, Evans admitted the subject had not been discussed during a meeting between him and Cellino last week.
“The first review I had was about myself, the staff and the structure of the staff going forward,” Evans said. “Then we went on to different departments in the team and started with contracted players and out-of-contract players – who you should keep, and who you shouldn’t.” Asked if Bridcutt’s situation was currently being addressed, Evans said: “No, it’s not.”
Bridcutt told the YEP in February that he would be interested in joining Leeds permanently, provided the club and Cellino were willing to fund a concerted push for promotion next season.
“For me, yes I’d like to stay at Leeds if the circumstances are right,” Bridcutt said. “Every club I’m at, I want to be aiming high and I want the club to aim high. If Leeds are willing to do that in the summer then I’d be happy to stay.”
Aside from their two loanees, Bridcutt and Middlesbrough’s Mustapha Carayol, only two other first-team players – striker Mirco Antenucci and goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell – are out of contract at the end of June.
Antenucci is yet to be offered a new deal by Leeds and will almost certainly return to Italy after two seasons in England. Nineteen-year-old Peacock-Farrell has been offered a two-year extension but is yet to accept it. Evans spoke about fielding the teenager for a second time before the end of this season but he used Marco Silvestri in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Charlton Athletic.
Leeds will publish their list of retained and released players in the aftermath of Saturday’s trip to Preston. Evans, however, said over the weekend that he hoped Cellino would clarify his own position as head coach before Leeds head for Deepdale.
The club’s clash with Charlton was Evans’ 37th game in charge, in a reign stretching back to October. Bridcutt is one of three signings made by him in that period, alongside Carayol and Toumani Diagouraga.
“We lost a good player in Sam Byram (in January) who had to be sold but we’ve brought in three players and Liam Bridcutt’s made a big difference,” Evans said. “So has Toumani and when he came off the bench (against Charlton), I was thinking ‘I wish I’d started you.’ He was outstanding.
“Mustapha’s been beset by a couple of hamstring injuries but those three players have made us better. We need five or six more equal to that level this summer – if not better than that level. We’re a little bit away from where we need to be.”
Carayol, who moved to Leeds from Boro in January, has made only six league starts and was missing from Evans’ squad on Saturday with a hamstring injury. The winger’s impact has been less telling than Bridcutt’s and Leeds are not expected to pursue him again.
Carayol is continuing to work at Thorp Arch and could be fit for Leeds’ last match. “Muzzy’s still here,” Evans said. “Does he have a chance for Preston? We’ll know later in the week but we will make changes for Preston.
“There are some players here who are ready for a game and we don’t want to be slipping two or three places down the table on the last day. We want to come away from Preston with something to add to our efforts.”
Evans has a decision to make about Souleymane Doukara, the French striker who completed an eight-game ban during Saturday’s defeat to Charlton.
Doukara was suspended by the Football Association for biting Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta during a league match at Elland Road in February and the punishment ruled him out of the whole of a congested schedule in April.