Leeds United: Warnock delighted with his wheeler-dealing

Habib Habibou. PIC: Varley Picture Agency
Habib Habibou. PIC: Varley Picture Agency
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He called it a vital month and by the closure of the January transfer window, Neil Warnock sounded bullish.

There was no wild investment and nothing in the way of sensational signings but after ending the window with deals for Steve Morison, Stephen Warnock and Habib Habibou, Leeds United’s manager argued that the club had done “very, very well.”

The 64-year-old cut a relaxed figure yesterday as he analysed a month which saw six players join Leeds, a prolific striker depart and countless surplus professionals take up offers elsewhere.

There were frustrations for him, not least United’s failure to talk Birmingham City into selling Chris Burke and the offer from Blackburn Rovers which prevented United from getting involved in negotiations with ex-loanee Jerome Thomas, but Neil Warnock voiced few complaints.

In trading United’s top scorer, Luciano Becchio, for Morison and a fee of £200,000 from Norwich City, Warnock signed a striker who he claimed had been his “first-choice target” even before Becchio submitted a transfer request and made plain his desire to leave.

Stephen Warnock, he said, is an England international and as good a left-back as Leeds could have expected to sign in January.

The less familiar Habibou – a tall and imposing African striker, brought in on loan from the Belgian leagues – was “back-up” and a “no-lose” option; a forward who United have an option to buy in the summer.

“It’s given us a lot more balance to the team,” said the United boss. “I think we’ve come out of the window very, very well.

“With the swap deal in particular, we lacked a bit of pace up front and Morison’s got that.

“We’ve got pace now and a bit more power. He’s a player I’ve always rated very highly and I think it’s a great deal. But then I’m biased.

“He was top of my list and my main man, even before everything happened with Becchio.

“I didn’t expect Becchio to go there (to Norwich) but that situation sorted itself out and I don’t want players here who don’t want to be here.

“With Stephen Warnock, it’s not long ago that he played for his country and I’m not going to get a better player than that. It’s nice to get lads who want to come and play for you. Both of them made it clear how keen they were and that does help.

“Habib’s comes in until the end of the season. He came over for a trial a couple of weeks back and I liked what I saw. Financially it’s not a lot of money so it’s a no-lose situation for us.

“He’s a big target man and it gives us another option. To get Morison in like we did and then bring another lad in as back-up can only help the squad.

“We’re still on the look-out for a wide player but it’s not like we can’t get anybody in. The loan window’s opening soon (on February 8) and we could actually have somebody signed before next Saturday so it’s not really affected us. It’s just disappointing not to have everyone I wanted.”

Morison is no stranger to Leeds having played his part in the fiercely-competitive relationship between United and Millwall during two seasons at the New Den. His move to Norwich and the Premier League in 2011 offered him greater exposure still, and Leeds inquired about him some time before Becchio made a move for the door at Elland Road.

Most of Stephen Warnock’s career has played out in the Premier League and was full of promise until his dwindling involvement at Aston Villa and the club’s desperation to remove him from their wage bill left him training with Villa’s youth-team squad.

Aged 31, he agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Leeds on Thursday, committing himself to Elland Road until June 2015.

By comparison, Habibou is an entirely unknown quantity. Born in the Central African Republic, the 25-year-old cut his teeth at Paris Saint-Germain before moving across Europe to play for clubs in Romania and Belgium.

Leeds have paid a loan fee to sign him from SV Zulte Waregem until the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal, following up an initial interest which saw them invite the six foot four inch forward to Thorp Arch for a trial early last month.

The deal remains subject to international clearance and Habibou was not expected to feature in today’s game against Cardiff City at Elland Road but Neil Warnock’s hope is that the three additions – and particularly those of Morison and Stephen Warnock – will enhance United’s prospects of qualifying for the Championship play-offs by redressing their miserable away record.

“I’m concerned with getting a team together which has all the qualities to play away from home and win games, as well as at home,” Neil Warnock said. “I think we’ve gone towards that now. These are good acquisitions.

“When you look at all the signings we’ve made this season, we’re still in the process of blending everyone in but we’ve already beaten three Premier League sides in the cups and played well against another one, and we’re above the teams who got relegated last season.

“It’s quite an achievement but we don’t want to rest on that.

“Everyone knows how important it is to me that we try and get up there in the table. We don’t want to drift.

“I’ve not brought Morison and (Stephen) Warnock in with any other thought (than promotion) and we’ve still got that intention.

“But it’s a difficult month ahead of us, probably the toughest group of fixtures coming up, and we needed strengthening. We’ve done that in the right areas.”

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