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Are Leeds United Finally Ready for Promotion?

Article by Jeremy Taylor @jezaldinho
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Leeds fans are pinching themselves after the club took a huge step forward with the signing of Chris Wood from Premiership escape artist’s Leicester City.

In what has been a remarkably positive pre-season by United’s standards, everything so far has been calm, considered and progressive. What normally happens at Leeds during this period is, well… nothing. Other clubs reinforce and reshape their squads while Leeds sit and wait to see who comes sniffing at whatever talent has been discreetly placed in the shop window. Not this year though.

After so many false dawns, Leeds United seems to have finally stepped out of the grim shadow of financial hardship and mismanagement and into the light of progress. This couldn’t have been better demonstrated as it has been with the signing of Wood for a reported £3m.

To put things in perspective, the last time Leeds United paid over £1.2m for a footballer was back in 2002, on Nick Barmby. So, while the rest of football has swelled with TV rights money and general inflation, Leeds United has been ducking, diving and surviving on a diet of free transfers and loan deals. For thirteen years! David Beckham was still at Manchester United the last time Leeds United were able to behave like a stable football club.

Everyone knows who’s to blame and the time for bashing the likes of Ken Bates has passed. That terrible, dark period that he oversaw can now be consigned to the history books.

Looking to recent times and although it’s been a shaky start for the new Cellino era and he hasn’t exactly bathed himself in glory, there’s no doubt he’s overseen clear progress. His eccentricity has been all too evident and his reputation as a manager-eater certainly followed him here from Italy, but so too has his obvious head for business and genuine passion for football and his club.

Back to Chris Wood and, although it was a story that only grew in momentum, most Leeds fans will have remained skeptical that such a quality player with such a serious price tag could end up at Elland Road. But end up here he has, and if ever Cellino wanted to send a message out to the fans that he means business then this was it.

Wood has been quick to praise Cellino but equally he’s lauded Rosler and Pearson as key factors in his decision, and one feels the latter pair are what’s really making the difference. It’s no coincidence that Cellino has withdrawn into the background now that Pearson is in place and his remit of being the ‘face’ of the club is obviously working. Bringing him in really was a masterstroke from Cellino and it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that it was Pearson’s idea in the first place.

In terms of other transfers, Rosler has said he wants two more. At least one must be a winger regardless of whether the promising Adam Drury is offered a contract or not. Leeds have been desperately short of wide pace for so long now that the wide areas of the Elland Road pitch are actually a different colour to the middle.

Perhaps more worrying is the possibility of another signing being a fullback. Competition for Charlie Taylor at left back wouldn’t hurt but should the reported interest in Sam Byram continue to escalate then he may need to fill that spot too.

Byram is an intriguing situation and even the most fanatical fans must surely agree that selling him now is preferable to seeing him walk away for nothing next summer. Truth is, the cards are all in young Sam’s hands. He can do whatever he wants at this stage really so what else is there to do other than hope he fancies another crack at promotion with Leeds United.

The best solution for everyone would be a new contract with a non-promotion clause in it allowing him to join the Premier league for a decent amount should Leeds fail again this season. The club and fans can’t really ask for more from a great young talent who deserves to be in the top flight.

Looking at other possible departures and, having seen the squad efficiently and sensibly trimmed over the past month or so, one or two bodies are still left standing, wondering what’s next. The likes of Steve Morison must surely feel that enough is enough.

Then there’s Billy Sharp. He’s attracted interest and seems to be surplus to requirements, so two-plus-two surely equals a move. His time at Leeds never really got going and you can’t help but feel sorry for him to some degree. Constantly shifting managers, tactics and teammates haven’t helped a player who one feels requires a certain consistency around him in order to flourish. Hopefully he’ll go to a club that plays a more traditional way and, if he starts week in week out, he’ll probably do well.

The most interesting area could well be midfield, and it will be this part of the jigsaw that occupies Rosler most. Lewis Cook is a given after his incredible debut season and everyone will fancy him to build on that start and grow. With a bit of luck he can quickly become the next Fabian Delph, only we could actually keep him this time.

Mowatt is another that despite going missing on occasion continues to progress and look more and more like a Premiership footballer, so he shouldn’t fear for his place at present.

Luke Murphy is an interesting proposition for Rosler. He managed to put a torrid time behind him early on and end the season well, so it’s fair to say that the slate is pretty clean for him. If he performs well in pre-season and carries it into the opening matches then the club could finally start seeing him realize his undoubted potential, but it’s very much in the balance.

Bianchi is a question mark, as is Casper Sloth. Then there’s the likes of Kalvin Phillips standing in the doorway looking in. However, there’s a strong case to say that a replacement for Rodolph Austin is still required. The only midfielder of the bunch that you’d fancy to sit in a holding role well is young Cook, and that’s too much for a single player to shoulder, never mind one that’s yet to shave properly.

The rumours about Joey Barton have gone quiet and the likelihood is that the money he’s demanded in wages made the deal unattractive for Leeds. Plus, on a personal level it’s a transfer that would divide opinion. As one of the game’s most controversial (and disliked) players, there’s a strong argument that he’s the last person a club like Leeds need joining them.

On the other hand though, the same was probably said of Vinnie Jones. Plus, there’s no denying a midfield with Cook and Barton marauding around together with Mowatt or Murphy is a mouth-watering prospect. It has certain flavours of the Wilkisnon-era teams of Batty, Speed and Strachan… that perfect blend of youth, experience and bite.

Even if it isn’t Barton, Rosler could and probably should be looking for reinforcements to the midfield enforcer role.

So, the window is now open and for the first time in years, Leeds fans can check the news each day with a genuine belief that their club can and will be adding quality football players to its squad.

We have an experienced, capable manager and an absolute god-send in Adam Pearson making sure that any lunacy that comes rampaging round the boardroom goes no further than the door.

Also and crucially, we have a squad that looks sharper, hungrier and more capable than it has since a certain Irishman was in charge.

Who knows, this could be our year......finally.

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