Rumours abound that young Man U striker Will Keane is to follow in Scott Wootton’s footsteps in furthering his career by making the cross-Pennine move from wrong side to right. Leeds seem to have figured out a way here to keep to the letter of their commitment without breaking the bank or at least adding too many straws to that particular tottering camel’s back. The luminaries of the Pride of Devon development squad will not command lavish wages, and yet the promises of a “high profile” loan will be trumpeted as having been met; any signing from the Theatre of Hollow Myths will automatically be accepted by the Press and even some fans as high profile, regardless of whether we’ve ever heard of him before.
For those more inclined to think for themselves, though, this trend might appear a little worrying and for more than one reason. Firstly, Premier League development squads, crammed with potential though they may be, do not necessarily produce players ready to enter the hurly-burly of Championship football. The trouble is, many fans will see pictures of the new boy in the colours of Man U or whichever other top-flight juggernaut, and they will automatically have these expectations – expectations that the callow youth in question may not yet be ready to meet. This is a problem which is especially acute at Leeds with its notoriously demanding support and intimidating atmosphere.
Secondly, in this particular case, we have another lad on the way back from a season-ending knee injury – that familiar nasty, the ruptured cruciates. Too often, we appear to be linked with players who are not only trying to make their way in the game and therefore have startlingly little on their CV, but who also have these orthopaedic skeletons in their closets; the kind of injuries that raise doubts over the patient’s ability to thrive or even survive in an unforgiving environment like the English second tier of professional football. And it’s not the first time this week that our hopes seem to have been in danger of pinning themselves to footballers with less-than-perfect medical histories. The spectre of Davide Somma’s career, previously thought dead and buried in June, has been detected floating along the corridors of Thorp Arch this last day or so. Leeds’ immediate prospects, in their current poverty-stricken circumstances, seem a little shaky to be entrusted to playing staff fresh out of the convalescent wards.
That said, these injuries are not necessarily career-enders these days. Somma showed plenty of class in his too-brief spell in and around United’s first team a few years back – and young Keane was the bright hope of his age group at Man U until his own agonising setback whilst on England U-19 duty. It’s just that there’s this worry, that we’re placing all our hopes on beardless youth, or chronic injury victims, or both.
If such gambles were to pay off, then I’d be the first to hold my hand up in joy and relief because Leeds United certainly do need something right now, some injection of pace, quality, that lethal finishing ability we’ve so palpably lacked. But as ifs go, it’s a big one and I’d feel a lot easier in my mind if the allegedly relaxed GFH purse strings could make possible one or two signings of quality and experience who have been there and done it, in cauldrons that bear comparison to the unforgiving white heat of Elland Road. That’s the kind of high-profile needed right now – not the sort that depends on the media-hyped status of the loaning club, nor yet the kind that brings back fond memories of what a player was once able to do in a Leeds United shirt.
Nobody wishes Davide Somma restored fitness and some reprises of those terrific performances, more than I do. And nobody would be happier to see a young lad walk in through the doors of Elland Road and carve himself a reputation in the game, to the advantage of my beloved Leeds. It’s just such a gamble and it seems to me at the moment that gambling should be kept to a minimum. We should instead be hedging our bets and looking for some tried and tested quality.
It’s not promotion chances we’re weighing in the balance here, after all. Those prospects already seem dim and distant, as the club’s owners appear to acknowledge. And yet still Leeds United have to be seen to be trying to compete as far up the league as possible. The supporters will rightly demand that, and if they don’t see that competitive edge and the work ethic that’s always expected at Leeds, then there will be a continuation of that change of mood, that downward spiral of morale which has seen the atmosphere over LS11 dying a slow death over the past decade. That’s the real challenge for the moment – inspiring the fans to keep the faith. And whatever attention the owners have so far paid to “engaging with the fans” and other items of PR propaganda – they don’t yet appear to have managed this feat of inspiration. A more ambitious and realistic attitude to transfer recruitment would go a long way towards that.