There is time left for Steve Evans but precious little scope. The emergency loan market is not like FIFA’s windows where transfers act as dominoes. Premier League clubs are dormant and obliged to stick with their lot. Players unavailable yesterday will be unavailable today.
It was not necessary in any case for Evans to be hanging on his phone in the hours before the Football League’s deadline. He has been head coach of Leeds United for five weeks. A deal to sign Sunderland’s Liam Bridcutt – a phantom transfer if ever there was one – was set in motion on November 2 and seemed to have fallen victim to prevarication. Sam Allardyce has long been happy to let Bridcutt go. By all accounts he was simply tired of exchanging phone calls with Leeds. Against expectations, some frantic movement tonight has made that signing possible again. Evans hopes to complete it in the morning.
Not every approach followed that protracted plot. Some of Evans’ targets were needed by their parent clubs; Norwich City’s Kyle Lafferty for one. Others like Lewis Grabban weren’t keen on relocating. Rumours in London suggest Evans was keenly interested in Tony Watt, the former Celtic striker who left Charlton Athletic for Cardiff City on Monday. The net has been cast wide.
As for goalkeepers, Evans found what managers always find mid-season: a shortage of safe, reliable options. It’s a truth of football that coaches don’t often retain good goalkeepers for the purpose of loaning them out. Back in the day when Reading stockpiled Adam Federici, Mikkel Andersen and Alex McCarthy, they were everyone’s go-to club.
Nuanced reasons but a stark outcome: that for all his input and ideas, Evans had succeeded in signing no-one with 24 hours of the window to go. He said he would be “disappointed” if the deadline passed quietly and disappointed might be putting it mildly. Evans likes a signing as his record at Rotherham showed but he has not be chasing transfers on a whim. Massimo Cellino told him to look for players. They have spoken about players constantly in the past month. As recently as Monday they met at Elland Road to talk again.
Cellino’s involvement will come under scrutiny if Evans draws a blank. Is Cellino playing his head coach and messing around or has he raised the drawbridge and discounted further player investment after deciding – if that is the word – to sell the club?
It would be easy, fashionable, to point the finger at United’s owner but Evans made a pertinent point last week: where transfers are concerned, it is not Cellino’s style to send his coaches on a hunt for wild geese. Previous managers have said that in periods when signings were off the agenda, Cellino did not indulge discussions about them. He said no and killed the conversation stone dead. Short-term loans have never appealed to United’s owner but Evans was asked to suggest them anyway. If Cellino did not intend to be so inactive then Leeds have been unlucky to find themselves trailing down countless dead ends.
Perhaps Cellino knows United’s history. Historically the club have a track record of using the loan market poorly. Will Buckley is threatening to be the next example, gradually slipping into the category of signed-with-promise, sent-home-without-fanfare. Leeds loaned Buckley from Sunderland with the intention of signing him long-term in January. He has started one game and not played at all this month. The head coach who wanted him is no longer in a job. Barring a sensational December, the original plan will doubtless be shelved.
It is, needless to say, a short hop until January and the January market exceeds the capacity of the emergency loan window but the month before then is a crucial one for Leeds. The first half of last season was widely viewed as an unmitigated shambles but after 17 games the club had a point more than they hold now. Evans talks about reaching the top 10 over Christmas; of getting into a position where clubs in the play-off places are compelled to take an interest in Leeds. It might be that the second half of this season can follow that plot but for now and in the run-up to the turn of the year, the club are in the business of staying clear of trouble. To say otherwise would be blindly complacent. And some additional resources would not hurt.