THIS summer like several others before it sees Leeds United’s players going their separate ways with no clear idea of what they will find when they come back to Thorp Arch for pre-season in July.
They can expect a change of ownership in the meantime, a deal which ends Massimo Cellino’s three-year association with Leeds, but other loose ends are more difficult for United’s squad to second-guess.
They should know before the end of this month whether Garry Monk’s reign as head coach will run into a second season and Stuart Dallas, the club’s Irish winger, is as keen to learn if the club will find a way to bring Kyle Bartley back from Swansea City.
Common sense says that Leeds’ attempt to move forward from the season behind them would be helped by keeping the existing framework intact.
Bartley, who made the final appearance of his loan from Swansea eight days ago, spoke for much of the dressing room last month when he said: “If Garry stays, the club will be in better hands than if he doesn’t. If they don’t sign him up they could be in trouble.”
Dallas feels the same, despite the fact that his involvement under Monk has been more patchy. United co-owner Andrea Radrizzani is considering an extension of Monk’s contract in the knowledge that many at Leeds see the retention of Monk as non-negotiable.
“This summer is massive for the club,” Dallas said, reflecting on a year in which United finished a place below the Championship play-offs. “The club have got to build on what we’ve got here, starting with the management.
“You can see what everybody wants. The fans want it and the players want it. As players we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and make sure we come back in the best condition we can, no matter who’s in charge, but we know who we want and I think the fans do as well.
“The players would love (Monk) to stay. He’s a joy to work under and hopefully he’ll be here next season. But it’s not down to the players to make that decision.”
The same applies to Bartley, a defender who Monk has already identified as a key signing in the event that he stays on as head coach.
The club have got to build on what we’ve got here, starting with the management. You can see what everybody wants.Leeds United’s Stuart Dallas
The centre-back, who joined Leeds on a full-season loan last summer, was a quietly influential part of Monk’s team, overshadowed in the box-office stakes by Pontus Jansson next to him but an unofficial captain and the only Leeds player to make 50 appearances. Monk, who played with and coached Bartley at Swansea, said the defender had produced the “best football he’s ever played.”
Leeds have less control over Bartley’s future than they do over Monk’s. Bartley’s contract runs for another year at Swansea, who confirmed their place in the Premier League for next season following their victory at Sunderland on Saturday and Hull City’s defeat at Crystal Palace yesterday.
Their manager, Paul Clement, insisted on Thursday that Bartley would not be leaving the Liberty Stadium again and Dallas expects him to attract interest from the Premier League. “He’s massive and he’s proved throughout the season how big a player he can be,” Dallas said. “I think he’s missed one league game throughout the whole season.
“He’s a huge influence on the group and he’s miles ahead of his age, if that makes sense.
“Next year it would be great if he could come back here, but I think he can make the step up to the Premier League.”
Dallas has another 12 months on his own contract and will come back from the summer with the intention of improving from a bit-part term.
Monk used the winger sparingly in the early stages of the season, concerned that he had failed to recover fully from a summer in which Dallas travelled to Euro 2016 with Northern Ireland and spent much of pre-season on honeymoon with his wife.
His in-and-out appearances since then have been indicative of an area of Monk’s team which refused to pick itself. With the exception of Pablo Hernandez, none of Leeds’ midfielders or wingers started more than 30 games.
“It’s been a bit up and down for me personally,” Dallas said. “I didn’t start great but I don’t like to use the excuse that I was tired because I’m not the only player who came back from a major tournament. It’s an easy excuse to use that.
“I got back in and I’d been doing all right – I could have done better – but then I got an injury and it set me back again. I’ve been a bit-part player but I’ve still enjoyed it.
“I’m contracted here, going into my final season obviously, but I love it. The fans have always made me feel welcome. You do get a bit slated at times but that’s just a way of life and most of the time it’s deserved.”
Dallas has another busy summer ahead. His wife is due to give birth shortly and he will link up with Northern Ireland for international duty later this month. The season behind Monk’s squad ticked many boxes – Monk revealed after their last game at Wigan Athletic that United’s final total of 75 points was what his players had aimed for – but their late dip below the Championship’s play-off positions left the lingering frustration of a big opportunity missed.
“Three weeks ago we were eight points clear and we just couldn’t get over the line,” Dallas said. “From that point of view it’s disappointing.
“But we’ve definitely made progress from last season and certainly from the start of this season too.
“We set ourselves a points target and we’ve reached that target. Throughout the last 20 years or so it’s been an average that gets you into the play-offs. We’ve fallen short but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re still a young group. We’ll come back next season raring to go.”