There are encouraging signs at Elland Road. Within days, Honduran international Ramon Nunez, academy-product and local boy Tom Lees and youngster Zac Thompson have all put pen to paper on deals to keep them at the club for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps at last, the club’s management have seen sense; throwing down the gauntlet to defend themselves from potential suitors of Leeds’ prized squad members. Throughout the years languishing in the depths of the Football League, the likes of Jermaine Beckford have slipped through Leeds’ fingers, seeking employment elsewhere as the clock ticks nearer to their contract expiration.
The fates of the recently departed is varied, with Bradley Johnson applying his trade regularly in the Premier League, while Neil Kilkenny is treading water at the foot of the Championship table with Bristol City. Neither may be considered a sizable loss to Simon Grayson’s starting XI, but it’s not the exit of talented players that’s frustrated Leeds fans over recent years – it’s missing out on transfer fees that could then be reinvested. Jermaine Beckford’s free switch to Everton was proceeded twelve months later by a £4 million move to join Sven’s revolution at Leicester City. Although their cash-happy owners have paid over the odds, it’s clear that the striker would have commanded a sizable fee had his contract not expired at Elland Road.
It’s encouraging to see something being done about tying down the club’s integral squad members. Max Gradel’s sudden demands to leave led Leeds to hurry through his departure before transfer deadline day, having accepted an underwhelming offer from overseas, or risk seeing him walk out of the club for free at the end of the season. Ramon Nunez’s impact early in the campaign softened the blow of Gradel’s exit – he fitted neatly in to the mould of a quick-footed attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, which would otherwise remain vacant in the first-team. Since Tom Lees was included in the side, particularly when playing at the heart of the defence rather than shifted out at right back, Leeds have looked relatively more competent against opponent’s attackers. Zac Thompson has seen little first-team action, but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see young talent at the club be rewarded with an extended deal.
In the club’s history, particularly under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson, the academy has produced talent that has gone on to reach the upper reaches of English football. In recent years, the club has merely occasionally coughed up the odd gem. After a recent overhaul of the club’s academy staff, the tide could again be turning should the likes of Lees and Thompson fulfil their potential.
However, there’s one player whose contract is moving ominously close to its expiration. Club captain Jonny Howson has reportedly begun talks about extending his deal, but the rumours of wage demands and the club’s reluctance to break it’s regimental pay structure mean there’s a suspicious feeling of familiarity about suggestions of contract talks breaking down due to the club’s reluctance to increase wages.
The news of Nunez, Lees and Thompson’s contracts is welcome, but only with the announcement of a new deal for Howson will the club prove it has moved beyond it’s ill-fated period of losing out on vital transfer funds; a new contract for the local-boy-turned-good would be an indicator of Leeds’ new-found commitment to keeping their biggest talents.
Written by Pete Allison, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
Pete tweets at @Pete_Allison