Last Friday, each of the Premier League’s clubs supplied their governing body with what is loosely termed a 25-man squad.
The figure is a misnomer since players under the age of 21 do not count towards the Premier League limit, explaining why Jack Wilshere was absent from Arsenal’s squad and Jack Rodwell took up no space in Everton’s. Friday’s submissions essentially revealed which senior footballers are out in the cold.
Not too many, as it turns out. Of the 20 Premier League teams, only two – Stoke City and Queens Park Rangers – rendered established players redundant for the first half of the season and even then in relatively small numbers. Stoke confirmed that Danny Pugh, Tom Soares, Danny Collins and Michael Tonge would not be used in league games before January. QPR took the same stance with Rob Hulse, Patrick Agyemang, Hogan Ephraim, Danny Shittu and Petter Vaagan Moen.
As a starting point for Football League managers, the list of explicitly-surplus players – in other words, players whose availability does not require the effort of a phone call – looks fairly shallow.
It does not explain why Leeds United have spoken so enthusiastically about the announcement of Premier League squads or indicate that the possibilities in front of manager Simon Grayson are better now than they were before the transfer deadline passed.
With a handful of exceptions, Grayson is reliant on one of two things – readiness among Premier League coaches to loan players from within their 25-man groups or the breed of raw professional who has given erratic service to Leeds in Grayson’s time as manager. Favours on one hand, gambles on the other.
It should not have come to this; not after a transfer window in which Leeds had ample time and clout to bring their squad up to strength. The Football League’s emergency window scarcely deserves its title – so often used to improve under-performing teams rather than solve genuine selection issues – but it has an emergency feel about it this season.
The fate of few clubs will depend on the business they do between now and the fourth Thursday in November, the day the loan market closes. It is more likely to depend on the business they completed in 100-odd days of summer.
Leeds United’s transfer window can only be graded as a severe anticlimax. It is futile to say otherwise.
There are teams in the Championship who were prone to a hard summer but Leeds, as a profitable club with two strong years to sell themselves on, are not in that category. The opportunity provided by the emergency loan market is no excuse for United’s drift through the close season.
There is a running theme to discussions about transfers at Elland Road – that players in England and abroad are falling over each other to join Leeds. From the events of this summer you can only surmise that the vast majority of those who would sign in the blink of an eye are not good enough to merit the chance.
Grayson’s preferred footballer would seem to be one who United cannot attract through reputation alone. Even allowing for his bad luck and frantic efforts on deadline day, either Grayson’s sights are set too high or his budget and wage structure are set too low. There are few other credible explanations for the complicated process of recruiting players since the end of last season.
Leeds are not at all oblivious to criticism. Both Grayson and his chairman, Ken Bates, have discussed it and countered it with various arguments.
Chief among them was the claim that, regardless of the number of incoming signings, a vital task in the summer window was the retention of United’s most treasured squad members. “Sometimes the most important thing is to keep your better players,” Grayson said, a comment echoed by Bates before Leeds’ first home game of the season. It lost its weight when Max Gradel was sold on the last day of the window and his chosen replacement declined to sign.
United took the unusual step of naming their target as Southampton’s Jason Puncheon and stating that a deal with him was virtually completed until QPR arrived on the scene. The contest at that point became a mis-match.
But it was a risk on Leeds’ part to agree to sell Gradel so late in the day and attempt to fill his shirt with a winger who was bound to have more than one admiring club.
The failed move for Puncheon is a perfect example of why many of United’s fans were vexed by the sluggish progress made in the transfer market in May, June and July.
The argument has never been that Leeds – at least before the exit of Gradel – are greatly weaker as a team than they were last season. Certain performances so far this season prove that they are not. It simply seemed that United were failing to move forward with any great strides.
With the transfer window closed and the emergency market open, the truth is apparent to anyone who wants to see it.
Grayson admitted that the club are “still a few bodies short”. It is an odd position to be in, considering his assertion in May that his plans for this summer did not require extensive changes to the squad.
He is left now with the emergency window and all it has to offer: loans up to a maximum of 93 days and subject to recall clauses after 28.
Those limitations are one of the reasons why he talked last week of the overwhelming merit of standard, long-term loans.
Among 18 previous emergency deals agreed by Grayson are some successes – Sam Sodje, Andy O’Brien and Eric Lichaj included. Before Grayson’s time, Dougie Freedman, who comes to Elland Road tomorrow as Crystal Palace manager, was another.
But past dabbles in the Football League market also reveal how unreliable it can be. Liam Dickinson, Jake Livermore and Barry Bannan go down as temporary signings who brought little to the table at crucial junctures.
Of those senior Premier League players made available, Pugh was the strongest option for Leeds – left-footed, flexible and well-versed in Championship football. He goes to show that the transfer market never truly dries up.
But recent years do not define Leeds as a club who thrive on short-term answers. Their momentum as a team has come from players at the core of the club: Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Gradel to name a number of examples.
The success of this season rests on the crux of Grayson’s squad, a crux which the emergency market might struggle to alter.