From top to bottom at Elland Road everyone is in agreement: Leeds United need a left winger. Uwe Rosler knows it and Massimo Cellino sees it as the one position which United’s budget must stretch to filling before the end of the transfer window.
A fortnight ago Rosler was talking about a recruitment strategy which had virtually fallen into place. The arrival of goalkeeper Ross Turnbull on a free transfer from Barnsley – signing number six – gave United’s head coach another round peg in a round hole. In terms of what Rosler needed this summer, as opposed to what he would have brought in if money were no object, he was one deal short of a full set.
The 46-year-old spotted an obvious shortage of goals in the squad he inherited so deals for Chris Wood and Lee Erwin were done. Tom Adeyemi’s loan from Cardiff City gave Rosler sufficient depth in his midfield and the deal with Sol Bamba retained a strong centre-back and a potential captain. Turnbull came in as cover for a keeper in Marco Silvestri who will start the new season as first choice and was otherwise lacking an experienced deputy.
Turnbull was the most recent of the arrivals, signed to a two-year deal on July 15 and in time to go on tour to Austria and Norway. Since then Leeds have tried and failed to finish Rosler’s team off with a deal for an out-and-out winger.
It is still the top priority as the club head into the last few days of pre-season and begin counting down to the visit of Burnley on August 8.
Rosler never intended to gut the squad at Elland Road, realising that he would be working to a budget this summer and happy in any case with many of the players he inherited in May. His shift towards a 4-3-3 formation was assisted by the ability of Sam Byram to operate as a right winger and United’s substantial investment in Wood, a reliable goalscorer who Rosler believes is capable of fending for himself in a front three.
The left-hand side was more of a problem and Rosler’s pre-season experiments have largely served to convince him and the club that a specialist wide player is needed.
Casper Sloth was used there against Eintracht Frankfurt last week but hardly touched the ball before half-time and moved into a central role at the start of the second half. Souleymane Doukara got a chance against Hoffenheim on Saturday, turning in a display which pleased Rosler in parts.
Speaking during United’s training camp in Austria, Rosler admitted that the experimentation was largely a search for fallbacks in the event that the transfer market failed to yield a new winger.
“There are areas where we want to improve,” he said. “Our financial framework is restricted but we still want to do at least one more thing. In some areas we are very light, especially when you talk about wanting to play with width and three up front.”
At one stage a week ago, Leeds thought a deal to sign Catania’s Raphael Martinho was about to fall into place.
A medical was mooted, though Martinho never actually completed one, and United discussed the transfer at length before deciding that the Brazilian’s poor grasp of English might be a problem. Unconvinced that he would settle in Leeds, the club chose to move on.
Earlier this month, Cellino made contact with French club Bastia about Floyd Ayite, a 26-year-old Togo international who is reported to be worth around £2million.
United’s Italian owner did not like Bastia’s valuation and has left that option alone. In the past few days the search has turned elsewhere. Cellino believes the club have enough alternatives, though none of them would be cheap and he is resistant to the idea of signing loanees who do not sign with a view to a permanent deal. Manchester City’s Brandon Barker, a player linked with Leeds throughout the summer, was ruled out for that reason – City’s reluctance to discuss the option of a full-time move.
“With loans that have no (right of) redemption, you are only paying to train another club’s player,” Cellino once said. “I’ve never done a deal like that in my life.”
Leeds also remain intent on balancing the books, despite their willingness to pay around £2m for Wood.
Having negotiated the sale of Billy Sharp to Sheffield United on Saturday, the club are trying to remove Steve Morison and Nicky Ajose from their wage bill having decided that neither player is needed for the forthcoming season.
Sources at Elland Road believe Morison’s preferred move is a return to Millwall but the striker’s wage is far beyond the reach of a League One club.
He became one of United’s top earners when he signed from Norwich City in 2013 and Leeds are anxious to avoid an expensive pay-off.
Ajose, meanwhile, has two years left on his contract but was encouraged to look for a new club by being omitted from United’s pre-season tour. The 23-year-old, who made little impact after his move from Peterborough United a year ago, remained in England instead and trained with the club’s development squad.
“I said to Nicky that he would find it hard to get regular playing time,” Rosler said.
“I think to be honest to players is the best way to be.
“He’s trying to sort out his future. That’s the best thing for the player and for us.”