IN THE end, and despite his plea for more talks last week, there was too much about Matej Vydra which worried Leeds United.
His fitness was less than perfect and his pre-season at Derby County has been a non-event. Vydra’s attitude and wage demands led the club to conclude that his willingness to speak them was driven by money.
By comparison, in Patrick Bamford they found more interest in the project at Elland Road and more interest in the benefits of a change of scene. There is no pretending that Bamford was the forward Leeds set their mind on signing at the start of the summer and failed negotiations with Vydra and Abel Hernandez led the club to Middlesbrough’s door but their recruitment team liked Bamford’s performance stats: his goals-to-games ratio, the impact of those strikes and the percentage which came from open play.
Victor Orta, Leeds’ director of football, courted Bamford once before, back when the Spaniard was running the recruitment department at The Riverside. Middlesbrough paid £6m to take him from Chelsea in January 2017 having seen Bamford’s finishing drive them to the Championship play-off final during a season-long loan in 2014-15. That 19-goal campaign put his name in lights but Bamford is coming to Elland Road with a reputation to repair.
The years in between were not entirely barren and last season brought 13 goals for Middlesbrough but in attempting to step up a level, the 24-year-old hit a wall. Loans in the Premier League at Crystal Palace and Burnley came and went without a single league start. Norwich City signed him temporarily in 2016 but used him only seven times. In all he endured 25 months without producing a competitive goal.
A return to Boro, however, helped to scratch that itch. Bamford was less prolific second time around and he reached February last season with only three efforts to his name but his eye for goal kicked in suddenly and seven goals in nine games, among them a hat-trick against Leeds, generated the momentum which carried Boro and Tony Pulis to the play-offs. Only Britt Assombalonga, with 15 goals, succeeded in outscoring him.
No position has worked United’s recruitment staff harder than centre-forward and with less than a week to go before the start of the Championship, Bamford’s arrival will give them peace on that front.Phil Hay
Bamford was not at the top of Pulis’ list of players to sell this summer – lower down than Assombalonga, a £15m purchase who failed to deliver on that big price tag – but Boro want signings of their own before the transfer window closes next week and Pulis is using Bamford to raise some funds.
Boro expected to pull in close to £20m through the sale of Adama Traore but Traore suffered a dislocated shoulder last week and it is not clear if Wolverhampton Wanderers will abandon a plan to sign him before the transfer deadline. Offers for Bamford suddenly appealed and the terms of a move to Leeds fell into place over the weekend.
Bamford was pencilled in to begin his medical yesterday and, barring any issues with it, his transfer to Elland Road is likely to be confirmed today. No position has worked United’s recruitment staff harder than centre-forward and with less than a week to go before the start of the Championship, Bamford’s arrival will give them peace on that front. The club are not expected to pursue Vydra, despite the Czech’s ability to play as a number 10 or a secondary striker, and Hernandez looks like taking up an offer from CSKA Moscow.
Leeds had long since ruled out meeting Hernandez’s financial demands and the decision on whether to move for Bamford is understood to have been left to Bielsa. Despite Kemar Roofe scoring twice in three pre-season games and Tyler Roberts reaching full fitness, Bielsa could see from the outset that United were short of a number nine. The lull in Bamford’s career has not stopped him maintaining a creditable ratio of a goal from every two league starts. Eight of his 11 finishes in the Championship last season came from open play, including all three of his efforts against Leeds. The forward, who was privately educated, blamed his failure to gain any traction during a half-season loan at Burnley in 2016 on a personality clash with Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager.
“Me and the boys got on fine but me and Sean Dyche just clashed,” Bamford told the Daily Mail last year. “I could sit down and talk to him now and be civil but we had different ideas of football. I didn’t get a chance. His team has done great, mind. I can’t argue with that.
“There were a few comments. Dyche said that because I had come through at Chelsea, and because of the way I had been brought up, I had never had to work for anything. My background is irrelevant and I didn’t even come through at Chelsea. I started at Nottingham Forest cleaning toilets and scrubbing the shower floors.
“People think I don’t mind that much but for me, not playing is the hardest thing ever. Sitting in the stands has been a nightmare.”
At Leeds, fitness permitting, he will spend no time in the stands. His pending transfer ticks boxes all round, giving Leeds their centre-forward and inviting Bamford to find some new impetus, three years after winning the Championship’s player of the year award. Back then he moved Aitor Karanka to say: “He’s the best player in the division. There’s not another player in the Championship who can do the things he does.”
Leeds hope to rediscover that verve.