At last, success in the transfer market for Leeds United – a rare phenomenon for a January transfer window that has normally seen United fans with their noses pressed up against the window, on the outside looking in, as lesser clubs have managed to do deals our erstwhile owner Master Bates refused to sanction. Those days are receding into the past now as a new atmosphere and a new attitude spreads throughout the club and the support. Cameron Stewart is described as “highly regarded” and as a wide man with pace and a finish on him, he has to be a welcome addition to Brian’s sluggish squad. It seems tolerably certain also that a second winger is to be added in the extremely near future, with Palace’s ex-Reading man and McDermott disciple Jimmy Kebe the name on everyone’s lips. Ross McCormack let the “two signings” cat out of the bag in an incautious tweet which he then removed. But expect Kebe, another injection of pace and creativity, to sign sometime on Friday. Clearly, after so many tons of BS from Bates and Warnock, it’s a case of “No Bull Gives You Wingers”.
There is more than a slight annoyance though, over the Cameron Stewart deal. We’ve signed him, in McDermott’s words, “on a technicality”. What this means is that the lad has joined on a 93 day emergency loan, which we are told will rule him out of the last four league games of the season – as well as any play-off matches which we may yet just possibly be involved with. This restriction is due to a rule about how many clubs a player can appear for in one season. Because Stewart has played half a game for Hull, and has also played (and scored against Leeds) for Charlton this term, he cannot sign permanently for United in this window. The emergency loan is the only way the deal could be done – and so we have this farcical situation where the winger will be unable to contribute to the very business end of the Leeds’ bid for promotion – if that is what it’s to be.
Now this, to me, is ridiculous. Sure, you need rules – and this rule is presumably in place to prevent the daft situation of one player appearing in a bewildering variety of different shirts over one league season. But rules should be our servants, not our masters – in other words they should be there to do a job, and not to cock things up that might otherwise have worked out for the best. It is clearly Leeds United’s intention that Cameron Stewart will be a Whites player for the foreseeable future – the lad has evidently signed a 3 year deal which will commence in summer. It’s equally clear that his involvement for Hull Tigers this term has been extremely marginal – one half of one game. And yet because of this, it may well come about that Leeds will enter a play-offs campaign shorn of someone who could easily have established himself as the main United threat by then. Not to put too fine a point on it, that sucks.
What this situation is crying out for is the football equivalent of a Papal Dispensation – some ultimate arbitration that can over-rule the sort of silliness created by the rules as they are being applied in this case. Leeds United have done the right thing in getting the deal done by whatever means possible – if Brian McDermott wants the player, then that is the priority. But now we need to be looking at either getting the 93 day period extended, citing unusual circumstances and the folly of having an important team member ruled out of the season’s climax – or alternatively, we should strongly request an ad hoc lifting of the “three clubs” rule. Such a request would be based on the twin arguments that (a) Stewart has appeared for less than one full game for Hull, which is a negligible issue – and (b) a deal is actually in place which will see him become a permanent Leeds player in summer. This is simply a common-sense argument, and there should always be latitude for the application of common-sense in any set of rules or regulations.
If such a solution could be found – and with the welter of legal eagles and sharp practice merchants surrounding any such deal, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to sort it out – then maybe some of the air of “they’ve always got it in for us”, which hangs permanently over Elland Road, may lift slightly. I’m as paranoid as the next man, as any reader of this blog will confirm – but there is good reason for that. Far too often in the past, Leeds have had the crappy end of the stick and have had to watch others being treated with comparative kid gloves. Should the scenario of Stewart becoming our main man over the coming weeks act itself out, with the new winger firing us to play-off qualification with games to spare, then it would be to say the least controversial that he would have to put his feet up on the strength of half a game for Hull. And if Leeds then go on to confirm their historical play-off ineptitude, yet another instance of injustice would be added to the club’s long list of grievances against officialdom.
Perhaps, after all, the authorities might look back on situations such as Leeds having to play for the Title only two days after winning the FA Cup in 1972 – and perhaps they may feel that this Stewart anomaly is a good chance to redress the balance a little. They could even be reminded that rules have been waived in unusual circumstances before, so there is some precedent.. Man U were allowed to sign cup-tied players for their run to the FA Cup Final in 1958 in the wake of the Munich disaster. Of course, the two situations are hardly comparable; then again, it shouldn’t take a tragedy for common-sense to come into play, and perhaps even the mandarins who rule the game might see this. Let’s hope so – and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a rare instance whereby that precious commodity of common-sense prevails.