Increasingly fed up and apathetic fans could be forgiven for expecting Lucas the Kop Cat to have been thrown a shirt, or for the news to be of Leeds’ first facilitation of another club’s signing. Leeds, simply, don’t sign players early. Or at least, we didn’t this year…
Our first season back in the Championship, our first signing was former Man City keeper Kasper Schmeichel, on 27 May. Then sought-after striker Billy Paynter, who had scored 26 goals in 44 appearances the season before, signed on June 2nd. Proven Championship defender Paul Connolly signed on 10 June, while Fede Bessone left a role in the watertight Swansea defence for Leeds on June 16th, and Neill Collins signed after a loan-deal on July 7th. The rest of the month saw Lloyd Sam and Alex Bruce sign, while Leeds’ current top goal-scorer Ross McCormack, ever-present midfielder Adam Clayton, and consistently overlooked attacking midfielder Ramon Nunez were signed in August.
The end of the signing period came with a bang with three players I wouldn’t mind having in the squad (in various roles) next season. Kasper was undoubtedly a good signing. With the benefit of hindsight we might look back on Paynter, Connolly, Bessone and Collins and wonder whether this is a lesson not to rush into signings? But Shaun Harvey talked to YEP this summer, revealing:
The summer before last (after Leeds’ promotion from League One), we made a lot of signings early on – Billy Paynter, Paul Connolly and Kasper Schmeichel to name examples. I’d liken our approach that summer to the approach of Norwich this summer after their promotion to the Premier League. The stated aim of Norwich was to stay in the Premier League, just as our stated aim back then was to stay in the Championship. We thought we had a good chance of challenging but the priority was to stay up and we signed players accordingly.
Leeds United’s approach in 2010 was a good one. We signed who we wanted, starting with a good player of Premiership pedigree, and we did easily enough to pass the stated targets. But unfortunately we missed our targets the following summer.
Last season, our first signing was one Paul Rachubka whose contract ran out at Blackpool. News broke on 24 June. On July 11th Leeds signed Michael Brown on a free, after spending half a season unable to play for financially crippled Portsmouth due to wage bonuses. Andy Lonergan signed as relegated Preston were forced to offload their best players, on July 25th. In early-mid August Darren O’Dea and Andy Keogh signed loan deals, and on September 8th Mikael Forssell signed, with compatriot Mika Vayrynen following on September 13th. Finally, with Max Gradel (unbeknownst to fans) on his way out of the club, Danny Pugh signed a loan-to-buy deal from Stoke on September 22nd.
That was the extent of our pre-winter dealings. Neil Warnock has insisted that Leeds must be quicker off the mark, and offer more resources if they are to bag the players they want this summer. With Ken Bates seeming to get fully behind the promotion quest in his radio addresses and programme notes, do fans dare hope that this weekend’s meeting between the two ends in a handshake and a beaming smile from Colin?
Future funding aside, the news is encouraging for fans. It may only be April, but Neil Warnock has almost sewn up his first signing. Here’s hoping this heralds a return of the summer weather. In Harvey’s article, he admitted that Leeds’ hadn’t made the early signings they’d hoped for. ‘All, bar none’ ended up in the Premier League. As a club Leeds has massive pulling power, but clearly Premier League football added with slightly higher wages was enough to draw potential signings away from Leeds. Perhaps the rumoured wage-cap didn’t help with the early signings? Neil Warnock is experienced enough at this level to know more or less the level we can hope to recruit. Similarly, whatever fans think of them (especially given we actually don’t know how good/bad a job they do) Harvey and Williams will have learnt from a frustrating summer and will work with Warnock this summer and I think we’ll do well in the market.
The question is, who’s the signing? As YEP acknowledged, Warnock has been linked with former QPR players Shaun Derry, Paddy Kenny and Clint Hill. I think it’s probably a former Warnock boy and given how early the deal’s almost been finalized he’s probably over 26 and running out of contract this summer. Clearly whoever it is is certain of his place in Warnock’s plans.
The contract angle would probably put Kenny and Derry out of the picture, though maybe QPR would negotiate this early. Given their place on the verge of demotion they’d have to be certain that the player in question isn’t in their plans…
I’m going with a safe bet and saying it’s either Clint Hill, whose contract is up this summer, or it’s Paul Robinson who’s decided his family living in Birmingham won’t stop him playing a season at Elland Road? But I bet I’ll end up with egg on my face!