Phil Hay's Column: Kemar Roofe and other contract extensions. What work lies ahead of Leeds United?
New deals were in vogue at Leeds United last season, arriving in the way that confetti falls. They would joke at Thorp Arch about the '˜2021 club' as player after player committed to that date and beyond. But January came, results blew up and Andrea Radrizzani had a perplexed tone. 'We expect them to step up,' he said. 'The club gave them everything in terms of new contracts.'
Pablo Hernandez was the last senior squad member to agree an extension, back in April and at a time when he was effectively free to take a wedge elsewhere. Leeds were slow in keeping Hernandez sweet but came to see how politically damaging his exit would be after a series of scrapes on the publicity front. Since then the club have limited themselves to lower-level housekeeping: improved terms for Tom Pearce and Jamie Shackleton, and other contracts within the academy.
There is an obvious explanation for that. Leeds’ first-team squad is pinned down en masse and no player with a peg in Marcelo Biesla’s dressing room is eligible to leave on a free transfer next summer. Few of those who Bielsa disregarded are nearing the end of their deals either, much as the club might wish that they were. It is the opposite extreme from the days when Jermaine Beckford was walking into the sunset for nothing and Jonny Howson was being sold for what anyone deemed the tail-end of contract to be worth.
Over the next few months, Leeds will be drawn back into the circle of negotiations, proposals and counter-offers. Kemar Roofe heads the list of priorities at Elland Road but there are other names to attend to and the club’s board expect Samuel Saiz and Bailey Peacock-Farrell to come to the table around the turn of the year. Mateusz Klich, who has shaken off the guise of a misfit and is making Leeds re-evaluate his value, poses less of a worry, despite a contract which runs to 2020. The YEP has learned that it includes an option in the club’s favour, allowing them to extend his term by a further 12 months. If Klich earns a hike in pay - and at this rate he will be due one eventually - then Leeds can discuss it under no duress.
Roofe’s position is different. The forward took up a four-year deal on his arrival from Oxford United in 2016 and Leeds have no right to automatically prolong it beyond the summer after next. His status creates the possibility of the club entering the January transfer window with a player who has scored 21 times in his last 46 appearances holding a contract with only 18 months on it. There would be no obligation to sell him but it is so often the stage where rival scouts start taking a serious look.
Initial contact from Roofe’s representatives came, quite understandably, around the time that the striker won the Championship’s player-of-the-month award for August. Leeds have not hurried into making him an offer and intend to take the weeks leading up to Christmas to test the water and consider the size of salary they are willing to fund. Roofe was signed on Massimo Cellino’s watch, in a period when Leeds were actively chopping their wage bill down, and he is some way below the highest earner after Patrick Bamford’s transfer from Middlesbrough. His form in the absence of an injured Bamford has heightened his negotiating power.
He will be due a pay rise and a meaningful one at that; something which gives him a relative level of parity. He has never looked more effective at Leeds than he has this season and he has a very approving head coach in Bielsa. Some close to Roofe doubt whether Leeds will pitch their offer at the level he would want but United believe they can satisfy a player who is said to be settled at Elland Road and the sale of Chris Wood in Radrizzani’s first summer window is a warning of the corner the club will be in if his future is unresolved at the end of the season.
Peacock-Farrell, Leeds’ young goalkeeper, also has a contract running to 2020 but he was a fringe player when he signed it and everyone can see that he earns significantly less than a first-choice keeper in the Championship should. With Saiz, the likelihood of an extension comes down to ability. The unorthodox Spaniard has a streak of genius on his day. He knows it, the club know it and the fact that he is already tied down to 2021 is largely irrelevant, provided his performances do not fall away spectacularly. Some players justify special maintenance, which is why Pontus Jansson received two contracts in the space of four months last season.
When January arrives, these pockets of contract negotiations might occupy the club more than the transfer market itself. Bielsa takes a strict line on the size of squad he wants and while the past fortnight brought news of bad injuries to Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi, Izzy Brown is beginning to clear certain hurdles and Patrick Bamford is well into his recovery from a knee ligament injury. Those two players are aiming for the end of the year, if not before, and Leeds do not anticipate a frantic window. An agreement with Roofe before or soon after it closes is one of the signatures they want, and a signature they need.