Jon Howe: Prudence in the hour of chaos

Jon Howe: Prudence in the hour of chaos

Weekly column.

There’s nothing quite like a transfer window to bring a fan’s relationship with the individual players they support to the fore. On one hand you have the low-key, pragmatic and rational response to Diego Llorente leaving Leeds United on loan to AS Roma this week – a rare example of a move which appears to suit everybody - and on the other hand you have the public, soul-bearing distress of Mateusz Klich packing his bags for the USA, which happened so suddenly he had to come back and leave again so everyone had a chance to wave him off properly. The quality of the incomings though, and overall, the verdict on the January transfer window was that prudence ruled.

Across the football world there is something about the January transfer window that makes people wilt with distress and gnash their teeth in frustration; and that’s just club photographers clock-watching until 11.00pm to see if they’re going to be needed again. It’s true that the January transfer window is the bane of many people’s lives, and yet just as many people appear to gain full-time employment from it, and between social media transfer rumour soothsayers, 24/7 TV news stations and football agents, I’m fairly sure it’s here to stay. 

In the past Leeds United have viewed the January transfer window much like an open air swimming pool. The thought of diving in is enticing, but it will probably feel really cold and uncomfortable and we won’t enjoy it, and so we’ll just sit on the side and watch, thanks. And yet, now we’ve taken the plunge with three stellar first-team singings and a very promising under-21 signing, and it feels lovely once you get used to it, doesn’t it? 

I’m being slightly facetious of course, because we have made January signings before, they have just ranged between the ‘okay’, the ‘that didn’t quite work out did it?’ and the ‘let’s never speak of this again’. So Leeds United closing the window on a January of almost unparalleled success, at least in terms of what they set out to do, feels like we’ve been really brave, but in reality we’ve been careful, calculated and shrewd. History has not been kind to Leeds fans with the January transfer window, it’s largely something that happens to other people, which is perhaps why the club’s pragmatic assembling of key purchases this time around has seemed like a madcap trolley dash.   

Looking back a decade or so, there can’t have been many mid-point junctures of seasons past where we haven’t looked at the January transfer window and thought Leeds United needed some important additions. The governors of the club at the time have always had their reasons for the amount and quality of business that subsequently takes place, whether we agree with them or not. A fanbase with relatively fresh memories of selling key players like Jonny Howson in 2012 and Sam Byram in 2016, aren’t used to ending January with a better squad than they started it with. And when you’re talking about fans who saw their club swap Luciano Becchio for Steve Morison in January 2013, and lived through a Keystone Kops hell-scape 12 months later of sacking a manager and re-instating him the next day and the club seeming to be imploding before our very eyes, it is easy to become cynical and fearful about what the transfer window might bring.

For that reason, many Leeds fans have been shuffling nervously in their chairs and persistently refreshing their Twitter feed all month to see how the club would approach this critical moment in the club’s modern history, because we never quite know what the feelings are or what the financial reality is behind the scenes. But there is no doubt that, on the face of it, Leeds have done some outstanding business this time around.

Regardless of the reasons why the Leeds board have not been as active in previous January windows, this year many things have fallen into place and the strategy has been coherent, ruthless and successful. The two key positions of a left-sided defender and a flexible forward have been covered by the signings of Max Wober and Georginio Rutter, but once Mateusz Klich was allowed to leave for DC United in the MLS it felt prudent to replace him. We needed some presence in midfield, some dynamic running and some box-to-box impact.

And perhaps this is the critical factor in how this year feels different. We haven’t always done the prudent thing. In fact we haven’t always done the blindingly obvious thing. But this year we have done what feels right and sensible, and have upgraded the squad and the midfield with the loan signing of Weston McKennie from Juventus. And given the way McKennie has been referencing his ‘trash talk’ in various interviews this week, it seems he’s picking up the Klichousery gauntlet as well. Furthermore, we have replaced Diego Llorente with the very promising Portugese defender Diogo Monteiro. And we have kept Jack Harrison.

We’re a long way from Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart riding over the hill on a horse to come and save our season here, and the days of forlornly turning our attentions to the lavish fruits of the emergency loan market are thankfully long behind us. With sensible loan departures for the likes of Cody Drameh and Joe Gelhardt too, the Leeds squad is blooming, balanced and nicely primed for the second half of the season. The second set of 19 games starts at Nottingham Forest on Sunday, and the simple equation is that we have to see a consistent improvement on the first set.

Many people talk about the transfer window like a card game, where you need patience, cunning and tactics, and there is weeks of jostling for position and waiting for things to fall into place, and even then, you might not end up with what you originally wanted. For Leeds United, most things have fallen into place and we have largely got what we wanted. And if that is prudence, and the fruits of a coherent plan working, then we now have everything in place to continue that on the pitch, and that’s a timely reminder that, ultimately, we can only really judge this transfer window at the end of the season. So it’s over to you boys.