ON THE face of it, the dents made by Leeds United in the transfer market met three of the demands which were ringing in their ears: sign a left-back, buy a striker, spend some cash.
A swathe of clubs no longer get out of bed for the sum spent by Leeds, but £8m is real money at Elland Road, not least in January. What was that old joke? Deadline day. Or as it’s known in Leeds, Wednesday.
Whether United’s investment – the scale of it financially or the players they are paying for – is sufficient to crack the Championship is as debatable now as it was at the start of the window and the suspicion remains that a top wage of £15,000 a week is a natural barrier to top-level signings, but their signings ticked empty boxes. A plan to give the market a miss did not survive for long.
A left-back was needed and Laurens De Bock, at first glance, has ample pedigree. A centre-forward was desirable and while Tyler Roberts cuts a calculated risk at 19, West Bromwich Albion felt they could make something of his burgeoning talent in the second half of the Premier League season. Then Daniel Sturridge arrived from Liverpool and the domino effect kicked in at The Hawthorns, despite West Brom’s reluctance to sell. It transpires that Sturridge and Roberts are represented by the same agency, and Roberts was ready to go.
Adam Forshaw, United’s £3m purchase from Middlesbrough, was the instinctive buy, a player who became available unexpectedly and who Leeds were willing to pay for regardless of circumstances. It helped that central midfielders were thin on the ground and that Forshaw was ready-made for the Championship, but Leeds wanted his signature badly enough to contest a strong and more lucrative offer from Cardiff City.
Forshaw fits another set of criteria which United stood accused of failing to value: a player with experience of the Championship and experience of getting out it. Forshaw has both and much of it very recent. Yet a finger in the air shows Leeds are exiting the transfer window to the sound of scepticism about their chances of making the play-offs, grumbling about their transfer policy and confusion about the end-game. Questions answered were replaced by others posed, not helped by Thomas Christiansen’s squad finishing January in a worse state than they started it.
The club, to an extent, have been victims of the unforeseen scenario in which players are dropping like flies. There was no intention whatsoever to sign a centre-back in January, but the club gave thought to it yesterday after realising they were one yellow card away from losing Pontus Jansson, the last central defender standing. Continuity is shot and so is United’s form, although it is simplistic in light of their performances to say that one is solely down to the other. Christiansen fielded a regular front four at Hull City on Tuesday: Pablo Hernandez, Kemar Roofe, Gjanni Alioski and Pierre-Michel Lasogga. The game came and went without Allan McGregor making a save.
Against that backdrop, an unexplosive window transmits a reluctance to gamble on what is still a fair chance of finishing inside the top six. It transmits a willingness to suspend ambition until a later date. But the issue at Leeds goes back to the summer window when the club and director of football Victor Orta tried, by their own admission, to construct a squad which would require little or no attention in January.
Some of those transfers have worked but several others have created a flash in the pan at best, and some are failing to provide any immediate return.
Transfers were needed this month, but Leeds had one thing right – the January market is not the time to substantially reshape or redefine a team.
A large amount of their business in this window was essentially forward planning: Yosuke Ideguchi arriving from Gamba Osaka but not in a Leeds shirt until next season; talks about Jerry Mbakogu but with a view to signing him from Carpi in the summer; multiple Under-23 signings, added to what is an increasingly large and multi-national development-squad at Thorp Arch. To the naked eye, Leeds are either visualising a first-team gold mine for the future, following Chelsea’s path in creating an alternative revenue stream or both. One way or another, in the field of academy recruitment, the club have begun a long game.
Youth development has been part of the fabric at Leeds for years and investment in it was undeniably overdue, in the eyes of anyone who worked at Thorp Arch. But the academy is like United’s senior squad: full of ideas, full of planning and the right intentions but yet to make the club’s support feel certain about where the set-up will take them. January has gone and the bigger picture is no easier to paint.
The suspicion remains that a top wage of £15,000 a week is a natural barrier to top-level signings, but their signings ticked empty boxes. A plan to give the market a miss did not survive for long.The YEP’S Phil Hay