In the morning came key additions and by early evening the threat of key departures. Much good work was done by Leeds United in the past 24 hours but a positive day turned last night with sudden movement towards the sale of Lewis Cook.
The midfielder is in Bournemouth’s sights again and unlike January, when Leeds withstood pressure from Dean Court to let Cook go, the club are ready to take the cash on offer to them. Starting at around £6m, the fee could rise to close to £10m.
The midfielder and left-back Charlie Taylor – the most valuable players in the squad at Elland Road – have both entered the last years of their contracts and in the absence of productive contract talks, owner Massimo Cellino is prepared to sell at least one of them. Head coach Garry Monk will look now for extra transfer funds if Cook departs.
Talk of the 19-year-old’s exit broke at the very moment when Leeds were in credit after a spate of signings, the latest a deal for talented League Two player of the year Kemar Roofe from Oxford United. Roofe, along with Swansea City’s Matt Grimes, was one of two arrivals yesterday and one of three in the space of 24 hours.
Six signings to date have predominantly addressed the areas of Monk’s team which needed attention and addressed the weaknesses responsible for wasting last season: a shortage of goals, frailty in central defence and worries about the all-round game of United’s first-choice goalkeeper. Monk’s squad looks very different now to how it did last Monday, when Marcus Antonsson was waiting for Leeds to announce him as transfer number one.
United and Cellino have made no pretence of being the Championship’s richest club but in the past fortnight they have been more active than most. Kyle Bartley’s arrival on loan from Swansea City last Friday was the first of five arrivals in seven days, ending with Roofe and giving Monk a fuller hand to play with when the club’s pre-season friendlies start in Dublin next week. That progress, however, is at risk of being diminished by the loss of player in Cook who Monk talked out of England Under-19 duty this month specifically because of his importance to the team and Leeds’ forthcoming season.
The on-field failings at Elland Road during the 2015-16 season were self-evident, on paper and in the flesh. Under both of Monk’s most recent predecessors, Steve Evans and Uwe Rosler, Leeds were limp up front and brittle at the back; outscored by Rotherham United and Fulham and far below the defensive standards of the top six. Leeds, as Evans said, fell betwixt and between – never seriously at risk of relegation but highly fanciful in their talk of the play-offs.
Monk resolved early on to make changes at both ends of the pitch, including a big decision about his keeper. Marco Silvestri is eight games short of 100 appearances for United and has been close to ever-present for the past two years, but United were increasingly unconvinced that his game was suited to the rigours and style of the Championship. The club spoke about Lee Grant and Lee Camp, who are under contract at Derby County and Rotherham respectively, but went instead for Rob Green, an England international and a free agent after his release by Queens Park Rangers in May.
After Green’s arrival on a 12-month deal on Wednesday, Monk now has four keepers training with him in Ireland and Leeds are likely to try to trim a pool which includes Silvestri, Ross Turnbull and 19-year-old Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Peacock-Farrell is safe after signing a two-year contract last month.
Bartley, like Green, is also in Yorkshire with the intention of providing much more than cover. Monk has three centre-backs to choose from after Giuseppe Bellusci’s loan move to Empoli – a deal which removed a difficult character from United’s dressing room – but another addition could be made to go alongside Bartley, Liam Cooper and Sol Bamba. Cellino is keen on Alfie Mawson, the Barnsley centre-back, and watched him when he attended the League One play-off final at the end of May.
Grimes, the 20-year-old who joined Leeds on season-long loan from Swansea, is a midfielder who Monk knows from the Liberty Stadium and a prospect who will value the chance of a full season in the Championship. Swansea paid £1.75m to sign Grimes from Exeter City in 2015 but the England Under-21 international has featured infrequently for his parent club and he finished last season with a loan at Blackburn Rovers.
“I’m really excited to come here and play football,” Grimes said. “That’s the aim for me this season. Coming here gives me a really good chance to do that at a high level.” He might find himself filling’s Cook’s shirt before long.
At the front end of Monk’s team, Leeds have taken what they think are worthwhile gambles, the most unpredictable Hadi Sacko on loan from Sporting Lisbon. But the talented Roofe struck 26 times for Oxford United last season and Antonsson had a record of 10 from 12 games midway through the Swedish season.
“Scoring goals is something I enjoy,” Roofe said yesterday after signing a four-year contract. Monk will know that he and Leeds need them.