Leeds United have a mediocre record in the loan market but from time to time it throws up a Liam Bridcutt.
Loanees by definition are expendable players but football is always relative.
Sunderland classed Bridcutt as excess baggage in the Premier League. They might look at him differently if the division spits them out this season.
The debate rages over Mirco Antenucci’s future but in the case of Bridcutt there should be no argument. As a starting point this summer, Leeds United need the midfielder in the building. They need more than him to give the Championship a go, particularly if clubs like Sunderland and Newcastle United drop into it, but Bridcutt is a rare commodity; a lynchpin Leeds can build around.
His form has been more in-and-out since Christmas than it was in his first month at Elland Road but Bridcutt’s strength is not in winning games. To look at his better periods at Elland Road, it is in marshalling the midfield in a fashion which allows other players around him to win them. It was said after Saturday’s win at Blackburn Rovers that Bridcutt had not played so well in weeks.
In his defence, neither has the team. One statistic sums up Bridcutt’s impact: five defeats in the 18 league games which the 26-year-old has started. Or four since a nasty debut at Queens Park Rangers.
Leeds’ reluctance to twist in the January transfer window spawned much criticism and plenty of debate, but Steve Evans was right in one respect: that Leeds would have wasted time and money by dabbling with short-term or open-ended loans.
Bridcutt was a slight exception, a player who Evans needed as quick fix in November and who was well-enough established to keep at all costs in January, but Mustapha Carayol demonstrates the hit-and-miss nature of temporary deals.
Bridcutt’s responsibility was to tighten Leeds up. Carayol’s duty is at the other end of the field. The winger’s record in the Championship is played seven, lost four and he will need a big flourish in April to convince Leeds that he is worth another go next season.
But Bridcutt is a banker; consistent Championship material. The notable difference between him and Antenucci is that if Leeds allow both to head off in the summer, other Championship clubs will try and sign Bridcutt.
This, then, will be a test of United’s sensible insistence on limiting loan deals to those with future options.
Leeds have no fixed agreement to take Bridcutt from Sunderland in the summer but there is no question that Sunderland, with Sam Allardyce as manager, want Bridcutt to leave permanently. The midfielder is just as keen to go. Sunderland, in their own way, are inviting offers, inviting a compromise, but Bridcutt will force Leeds to push the boat out.
The club’s current wage bill of £13m is not designed for a player who earns in excess of £25,000 a week. It is tailored for players who earn half as much.
Money will be the first hurdle, even if Bridcutt told the YEP last month that he was more interested in finding out how United intended to attack next season and who they intended to sign.
Leeds’ wage bill is on the low side by Championship standards, or at least by the standards of a typical promotion candidate. Last summer, some close to Massimo Cellino conceded that it was too low to make the play-offs achievable.
It was not so much a criticism of Cellino – areas of cost-cutting were widely regarded as necessary – as an acceptance of fact.
Eight months on, the league table bears that out, confirming that Leeds are getting what they pay for.
United are unlikely to tear up their wage structure at the end of the season, but they must find a way of creating space for players like Bridcutt; players who are worth a premium and can get it elsewhere. His understated style writes few headlines, but it won him two player-of-the-year awards at Brighton and it is making him a pillar of this Leeds team.
Moving forward, the club needs as many of those as possible. Antenucci’s future is debatable, a case which can be argued either way, but the first deal of the summer should be the permanent signing of Bridcutt. It will cost the club. But progress in the Championship does.