Phil Hay: Leeds United not prepared for loss of star striker Chris Wood

Chris Wood gets past Ryan Fredericks.
Chris Wood gets past Ryan Fredericks.

In respect of Chris Wood’s valuation, the transfer market is on Leeds United’s side. In a window where Britt Assombalonga costs £15m and Andre Gray £3m more, the club don’t need to waver about a fee for Wood.

The numbers get stupid or the interest in him goes nowhere and Leeds would prefer to see the second scenario play out.

Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga.

Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga.

Wood, Assombalonga and Gray are not like-for-like centre-forwards or replicas of each other, but clubs who court players like them want the same thing. Wood’s goal-scoring last season was a flashing light for managers at the bottom end of the Premier League scale and the chances of a transfer window without an offer for him were as slim as United’s enthusiasm for fielding formal bids.

There are two ways in which the club’s hand can be forced: via an offer which clears the striker’s value comfortably or by Wood pulling rank and agitating to leave, in the manner of Coutinho or van Dijk. Neither occurrence is apparent yet and, even in those circumstances, it is late in the window for Leeds to be trading a player whose presence is fundamental to the structure of their team.

There were signs in pre-season, and at Bolton Wanderers 10 days ago, of Leeds attacking with more pace and more immediacy than they did while Garry Monk was head coach, but Thomas Christiansen has not gone wildly off piste. His formation is as it was under Monk and Wood is still United’s focal point. It was Wood who Leeds were looking for from either flank as Preston dug in with 10 men on Saturday. It was Wood who the decisive chances fell to against Preston and Fulham, as they invariably did last season.

The club’s recruitment has changed the tone, the flair and the national identity of their squad but it has not altered the pecking order in a position where Wood stands alone as a proven Championship finisher.

Andre Gray.

Andre Gray.

That Leeds have not sought to pre-empt his departure could be taken as a sign that the club are genuine in their insistence that Wood will stay.

Amongst 10 first-team signings, Caleb Ekuban is the only new forward and is not, by his own admission, Wood’s body double. The Ghanaian said on his arrival that his strength was as a “second striker”; the quick and mobile half of a front two. England is a new environment for him and a very obvious step up from Albanian football. A four-year contract suggests that Leeds intend to give him time to adjust.

There were nice touches and a sharp finish in Ekuban’s debut against Port Vale but Wood’s role is a specialism in the Championship. Ekuban, as a substitute, offers a change of tack but Christiansen looked instead to Samuel Saiz as Saturday’s meeting with Preston ground towards stalemate. Kemar Roofe and Stuart Dallas came off the bench as Leeds chased a win against Fulham on Tuesday.

Wood is central to the framework and selling him now leaves a fortnight at most to source a like-for-like replacement within certain limits.

Evidence of how risky that trade-off can be is there in the final days of the January window in 2013. Sold Luciano Becchio, acquired Steve Morison, and from that deal nobody did especially well.

Four-and-a-half years on, Assombalonga’s salary at Middlesbrough would have broken the wage structure at Elland Road. Likewise Andre Gray’s. There is more to consider than the outlay of a fee itself. Down the road at Sheffield Wednesday they can toy with the idea of selling Fernando Forestieri because Sheffield Wednesday have strikers climbing over each other to play.

Far from cashing in on Wood, Leeds have not yet provided sufficient support for him. There are moves afoot and another forward should arrive before the window closes, though suggestions of interest in Ross McCormack appear to hold little water and the club’s approach for Hamburg’s Pierre-Michel Lasogga is at the mercy of Lasogga’s high wage.

The German is fifth choice and Hamburg want to move him on at the earliest opportunity but it will take some charity on Hamburg’s part to make Lasogga affordable.

Leeds, still, are as adamant as a Championship club can be that Wood will be at Elland Road beyond the end of this window.

That resistance should be heightened by the fact that they are not supremely prepared for his departure or guaranteed to be able to compensate for it.

“You cannot sell your best players,” said Christiansen on Saturday, knowing full well that in this climate so many clubs are doing exactly that.

But in the case of Wood, and at this juncture, he is right.