The cynical response to Robert Snodgrass’ claim that he was contracted, and therefore committed, to Leeds United is to note that the transfer window has closed. There is no safer moment for an outright expression of loyalty than a time when transfers are hypothetical.
Cynicism in Snodgrass’ case is unmerited.
He was asked the question and answered it honestly, without attempting to be cryptic or evasive.
For what it is worth, his comments were believable. But most of us know football better than that.
If a written contract at Liverpool creates no barrier between Fernando Torres and Chelsea, then a verbal undertaking from Snodgrass is a fragile promise. Tomorrow is always a different day.
Part of the culture of Leeds United in their sub-Premier League years has been a regular cycle of angst about who or what might lead their better players to water elsewhere. We saw it with Fabian Delph and again with Jermaine Beckford. For understandable reasons, it is presently Snodgrass’ turn. The paying public know a golden goose when they see one and the Scot’s appeal is universal. As Dominic Matteo said in his YEP column yesterday, only a negligent scout would be unaware of Snodgrass’ name and reputation.
Analysis of the winger will confirm that he meets the criteria which animates rich clubs: young, British and malleable. He is 23, a Scottish international and one of those rare footballers who bring a higher level of performance to a higher standard of competition. League One, the Championship and international friendlies. There is only one logical step forward from here.
Thus the theory that Leeds and Snodgrass will agree as much if the club are not promoted to the Premier League in May. It stands to reason that United would be prone to genuine attempts to pull him out of the Championship this summer; some might say that, in the interests of Snodgrass’ personal development and in deference to the unteachable skill shown in his goal at Bristol City, Leeds would be right to let him go.
Snodgrass’ claim that he is “staying put” can nonetheless be taken as a promise that he will not attempt to manufacture or manipulate a transfer as and when the rumours begin.
From watching and listening to Snodgrass over the past two-and-a-half years, I don’t doubt that he means what he says. You do not see in him the itchy feet which were evident in Fabian Delph during his final summer at Elland Road.
Delph saw the transfer market as his path to the Premier League. Snodgrass gives the honourable impression that he expects to travel there with Leeds. But, as Delph’s sale proved explicitly, players have their value. And the majority of players whose values are met tend to bow to football’s natural flow.
Promotion would unceremoniously hole this uncertainty. If Leeds are a Premier League club by the end of May then it is neither decent nor necessary to consider how a transfer involving Snodgrass – or any of their valuable players for that matter – can serve the greater good.
But if promotion is indeed the only means by which United can expect to retain their nuggets of gold, the club were on a hiding to nothing from the outset.
In a division where Cardiff City are still walking through treacle, the stipulation of joining the Premier League at the first time of asking was a thankless demand of a team who were embroiled in League One’s run-in 12 months ago.
And yet, it might come to pass. A crude estimate is that 20 points accrued from 15 remaining games will reward Leeds with inclusion in the play-offs. That is, by any fair estimate, a healthy year for a promoted club and a line on which United can sell themselves.
For that, they owe no small debt of gratitude to a manager who has constructed his team from rough resources – rough in the respect that a number of the players taken with him last summer were treading unknown ground by playing in the Championship. Even now, knowledge of the division among the squad at Elland Road is somewhat sketchy.
On that basis, Leeds should not have trouble convincing players of Snodgrass’ standing that they are in the hands of a progressive club. The league table does that for them. In the event that promotion slips by, the players might want to see in return a vision of where United will go from here – namely, how their approach to the summer prepares for a second year in the Championship.
Cardiff City are no role model in the world of finance but their stab at the transfer market before the start of this season made their intentions plain. Footballers have no difficulty buying into projects like that.
It is, arguably, a better defence of Snodgrass than the offer of a new contract. With two-and-a-half years to run on his existing deal, he is already worth a large transfer fee. Money matters to professional footballers but, as Matteo pointed out, this is a matter of naked ambition. For as long as United’s vision matches that of the players around them, they are not obliged to succumb to an exodus.