Leeds United: Time to give Brad a break - Hay

The assassination of Bradley Johnson's character last weekend left no doubt about who is being held responsible for his contractual dispute with Leeds United.

"One greedy b*****d" could not be misinterpreted as a message of support from the crowd at Elland Road.

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You can understand how that conclusion was reached. Before Saturday,

the only explanation for his refusal to sign a new deal was Ken Bates' remark that Johnson held a "rather high valuation of himself."

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That might have been a fair assessment but it was not independent. Contract offers always look good in the eyes of the club who make them.

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Leeds say their proposal to Johnson was generous. Twice in the past six

days, his riposte was the claim that the club were not treating him equally.

In the thick of that contradiction, it is presumptuous to accept that Johnson's rejection of a new contract was driven by greed.

"Nobody knows what's going on behind (closed) doors," he said, a fact that neither exonerates nor indicts him but which cautions against blind judgement.

The point with Johnson is that he is not the only player who has struggled to agree terms with Leeds. Luciano Becchio and Neil Kilkenny are in comparable positions, distinguished from Johnson insofar as neither has officially turned down a final offer. But there is no sign of imminent agreements, many weeks after talks began. Simon Grayson's comments after United's victory over Crystal Palace belied a degree of uncertainty about how those talks will end.

Johnson can stand accused of allowing money to dictate his career if he alone of the four players invited for negotiations in September walks out of Leeds next year.

The claim will hold less water if the midfielder is one of three who rule that United's offers were not competitive enough. Davide Somma is thus far isolated in agreeing to the terms put in front of him.

The club are entitled to set a limit on the wages they pay but the limit is theirs; it does not mean that professional footballers who argue with it deserve to be cast as mercenaries. There is no evidence that Johnson has other opportunities up his sleeve or a safety net allowing him to play hardball with Leeds. His situation is a prime example of polarised opinions about a player's valuation.

Whatever else can be said about him, Johnson is no coward. Last Saturday, he accepted an invitation from the press to explain his decision, which is more than Jermaine Beckford ever did.

Against expectation, he spoke in the manner of someone who hoped to be at Elland Road beyond January and wants to be there beyond next summer.

Given that Leeds drew a line under his most recent contract offer, it was always going to take a concerted act of reconciliation to make that happen. Bates' midweek dissection of Johnson's attitude was provocative and the midfielder's response every bit as pointed. There can be no way back from a bitter and needless exchange.

From United's perspective, if the club believe that he is worth no more than their valuation then they ought not to bend. But they should take care to ensure that last weekend's abuse of Johnson is not encouraged from within.

Grayson made the effort to be constructive by telling Johnson to perform in a fashion which earned the silence of the crowd, if not their ungrudging respect. It is sound advice but no simple task.

Johnson might possess more social awareness than Beckford but he does not have the striker's inherent talent for winning games or anything

like it.

Popular or not, Beckford did what few others in United's squad could do

and the thought of Leeds without him did not sit comfortably.

His goals meant he was easily tolerated and it took until the final month of last season for his relationship with the club's supporters to disintegrate.

The comparative speed of the attack on Johnson was telling, the public's way of saying that he will suffer more than the club when he leaves Elland Road.

All of which begs the question of what will happen if Kilkenny and Becchio also decide that their professional careers should continue elsewhere. Johnson's treatment must have opened their eyes, a warning of the criticism that might rain down on them.

Grayson acknowledged the right of the crowd to voice their disapproval but he cannot afford a situation where three of his most regular players are at odds with the supporters around them.

It would embattle a team who will be credible candidates for a play-off position if they reach the other side of new year with their form intact.

The general opinion of Johnson's decision was made perfectly clear on Saturday, to him more than anyone. For the sake of the club's season, it would be wise to cease hostilities there.

The right to express opinions becomes debatable at the point where it infringes on Grayson's freedom to pick a team as he sees fit. This, after all, is not his fight.