Busy summer ahead for Leeds
18 May 2015 09:13 pm, by YorkshireSquare
The 2014/15 Championship season might have only just finished but on-the-pitch matters have never felt so far away after a week that will go down in the already ridiculous recent history of the club. While it's now embarrassingly clear that Neil Redfearn won't be the one leading us into next season, the question as to just what state the squad will be in by the time the new campaign gets under way is almost as pressing as to who exactly will be putting the cones out. Massimo Cellino has again admitted he made errors in terms of recruitment last summer, assembling a squad of relative unknowns from the Italian leagues, but it remains to be seen whether the decisive Leeds owner’s promise to focus on British-based players when it comes to transfers comes to fruition. Andrea the furniture salesman is all set up with his office and DVD player, and now we'll see whether he's as good at picking out talented players as he was at somehow convincing Mrs Cellino to hand him a job in an English football club.
Even at this early stage of the summer, it feels as though we've endured more drama than other clubs have to go through in a decade. But if we know one thing about Cellino, we can expect at least another couple of jaw-dropping moments before the new season starts. But rather than trying to decipherer what's going on in the asylum that is the current Leeds United boardroom, how is the squad looking as we head into the summer and what do we need if we have any chance of making it back into the Premier League next year - one of the many things Cellino initially claimed would happen when he first bought the club?
Goalkeepers, what we have
Following the decision to allow everyone's favourite reserve goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor, to leave at the end of his contract this summer, as well as the departure of third choice Alex Cairns, it looks as though Leeds could be looking for at least one new shot-stopper before the start of the new season. But it may be that Cellino is left looking for a new number one if Marco Silvestri decides he'd rather not return to Leeds after his part in the "injured six" and absence from the end-of-season lap of honour. The Italian was one of the few success stories from last summer's recruitment, producing a string of incredible performances to establish himself as a firm fan favourite before his role, unfortunate or not, in the apparent player protest - albeit a role he may have played without knowing. As it stands, Eric Grimes looks set to sign a new contract with the club and the youngster, who has appeared in the Republic of Ireland's Under-21s, could have a role to play in the first team set-up next season.
Goalkeepers, what we need
There were few noticeable absentees from Leeds' final game of the season against Rotherham, none more so than owner Cellino, who was reportedly at Morecambe to take a look at Southend goalkeeper Daniel Bentley rather than joining the 31,000 at the Elland Road. Cellino's interest in the young English keeper casts a shadow over Silvestri's future, unless the Leeds owner wants another goalkeeper to challenge the Italian for his place. While it remains to be seen whether or not Silvestri will still be at the club next season, signing a talented young English player would be an encouraging start to the summer. Grimes has looked good in the development side this year and the Irishman may now take Cairns’ role as third choice this season.
Defenders, what we need
Following the end of Sol Bamba's loan spell, the big Ivorian has returned to his parent club Palermo, and it remains to be seen whether the centre-back will return. In his absence, Liam Cooper, Giuseppe Bellusci and Scott Wootton remain as the only recognisable centre-backs, a loose term based on some of their performances last season. While Cooper initially impressed following his switch from Chesterfield and was awarded the captaincy following Jason Pearce's move to Wigan, the 23-year-old is still learning his craft and was guilty of some below-par performances during the second half of the season. Bellusci is one of those players who divides opinion, it's just that it's more of an 80/20 split on the defender, with the majority not sure the Italian has what it takes to handle English football. Combine that with Bellusci's apparent refusal to play during the final weeks of season and there wouldn't be that many Leeds fans overly upset to see the back of the former Catania defender in the summer.
Wootton is an interesting one. He is a jack of all trades but a master of none. But despite his slow start to life at Elland Road, the former Manchester United youngster has shown that he is probably worth keeping around for his versatility as much as anything. Gaetano Berardi might have started his Leeds career by kung-fu kicking opponents and working on his appearance to red card ratio, but the Swiss full-back put in more than a few shifts during the final half of the season, not to mention making a point of playing despite struggling with an ankle problem in order to distance himself from the 'injured six'. In Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor, we have two of the best young Championship full-backs, both of whom all Leeds fans will be hoping are offered new contracts this summer.
Defenders, what we need
The first thing Cellino should be doing this summer is ensuring Bamba is signed up on a permanent deal from Palermo after his successful loan spell this year. The Ivorian added experience and leadership to a defence that desperately needed it in the second half of the season, and the big centre-back proved to Leeds fans that he not only understands what it takes to play for the club, he embraces it. If Cellino wants to add a more consistent centre-back to the squad in favour of the often erratic Bellusci, he needs to go the Bamba-route again and bring in a player who is proven in English football. The club could also do with another left-back to provide cover for Charlie Taylor next year, although Berardi has shown he is more than capable of filling in that side of defence and there are other areas of the team that need focusing on if Leeds are going to convince anyone to visit betfair and back them for promotion.
Midfielders, what we have
Well, it's goodbye Rudy Austin, Aidy White, Michael Tonge, Zac Thompson, Zan Benedicic and Granddi N'Goyi but our midfield is an area where Leeds have looked strongest this year. The incredible debut season exploits of Lewis Cook have been well documented and the academy graduate has been a key part of a central midfield that has looked as good as any in the Championship at times this season. While it's been Cook who has taken much of the focus, Alex Mowett deserves plenty of credit and it's no surprise to see the youngster being linked with a host of big name clubs, although there is hope the midfielder will agree a new deal this summer like Cook. Kalvin Phillips looks as though he is the next one off the Thorpe Arch production line, and his goalscoring debut against Cardiff was a rare highlight this season. After a shocking start to the season, it looked as though Luke Murphy's Leeds career was never going to get going. The arrival of Steve Thompson appears to have been the catalyst for Murphy's turnaround in fortunes, though, and the former Crewe man has been one of the best players at the club since Christmas.
Midfielders, what we need
As is tradition with Leeds, we start the summer desperately needing wingers. Granted, the last time we signed wingers they were called Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart, that's not to say we should go all David Hockaday and just do away with the thought of width. As it stands, there are no recognised wingers at the club and Redfearn was the latest in a string of Leeds head coach/managers who made it clear he could really do with someone, anyone, capable of playing out wide. As long as Cook, Mowett and Murphy are still Leeds players at the start of next season, we're going to have a midfield many in the Championship are going to envy.
Strikers, what we have
Not the strongest area of the Leeds team this year. Scoring became something of a problem this season, with the strikers only weighing in with a combined 22 goals all year. Billy Sharp failed to ever really get going following his move from Southampton, scoring just five goals in his first season at the club and never really settling. A proven goalscorer at this level, it would be a shame to sell Sharp only for him to pop up at another Championship club and score 25 goals next season, which would almost certainly happen. The same can't be said for Steve Morison, who is contracted for another year at Elland Road. Sure, the former Millwall man put in his fair of shifts after his return to the first team, but if we harbour any ambition of going up this year, we're going to need better strikers than Morison.
Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara both started the season in encouraging fashion, but for the final few months of the year it's fair to say neither tore up too many trees, and both were involved in the now infamous 'sicknote six' pull-out before the Charlton game. To be fair to Antenucci, the Italian always worked hard when on the pitch and proved on a number of occasions that he can finish, ending his first year at the club as the top scorer with 10 goals. In Doukara's case, the forward looked uninterested and lazy whenever he appeared from the bench after losing his place in the team after Christmas, and the Frenchman is another player Leeds fans wouldn't be that bothered about losing. Young Lewis Walters missed the majority of the season with a knee injury but the quick forward has shown enough in the development side to warrant being given a chance next season.
Strikers, what we need
Two questions Cellino needs to ask himself before buying a new striker this summer is, do they have the ability to score regular goals in the Championship, and are they definitely, positively NOT Edgar Cani. While one of those is much easier to guarantee than the other, Leeds need to make sure they get it right in this department if they are going to have any chance of promotion. The likes of Sharp, Antenucci and, at one time, Morison have both proven they have what it takes to score goals in this league, but if Cellino doesn't think any of the strikers at the club is capable of scoring 20-plus goals next year, he needs to go and sign someone he knows can.