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Leeds United have not learned the Bosman lesson

Ever since the Bosman ruling came into effect in 1995 – giving footballers the right to leave clubs for free at the end of their contracts – players have had the power when it comes to contract negotiations.

Some clubs have learnt to deal with the situation by opening negotiations early with players they want to keep. Leeds United is not one of those clubs.

In May, star striker Jermaine Beckford departed Elland Road for Premier League Everton after running down his contract. Leeds left it until Beckford entered the final year of the three-season extension he signed in October 2007 to open talks, something they ultimately paid the price for. The club hasn’t learned its lesson.

Fast forward a few months and there are three players who are in the same position that Beckford found himself in less than twelve months ago.

Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny and Luciano Becchio played a huge part in Leeds’ promotion from League One last term, and despite featuring heavily in the Championship, are about to enter the final six months of their contracts.

Leeds have openly expressed their wish to keep all three players, but just like with Beckford, they have left it late to secure their futures.

United chief executive Shaun Harvey moved to assure supporters in the summer that negotiations would begin in September. As we near the January transfer window, fans are still anxiously waiting for news on Becchio and Kilkenny.

To be fair to the club, work has been going on behind the scenes. South African striker Davide Somma recently signed a new three-year contract after impressing this season, and Johnson was last week placed on the transfer list after rejecting Leeds’ final contract offer.

Beckford was also transfer listed last season as the January window opened after failing to agree new terms, with Leeds looking to recoup a fee for the player. Despite receiving a substantial bid from Newcastle, manager Simon Grayson decided that keeping Beckford was key to earning promotion, and ultimately more important than receiving a fee. Johnson is unlikely to be thought of in the same regard.

The former Northampton midfielder has been an almost ever-present for the Whites this season, but has failed to win over a large majority of the fans. Whether he is Championship-class is open to debate, although rumours are that Premier League Stoke have him in their sights.

Johnson, or more likely his advisors, obviously feel a better deal can be had elsewhere. He would probably earn a substantial signing on fee if he waits until the summer and could earn higher wages. However, Leeds are now looking to get rid in January so that they can recoup some of £250,000 they paid for him in 2008.

The departure of Johnson may not be seen as a disaster at Elland Road, but if Kilkenny and Becchio were to go too, that view may change.

Fans’ favourite Becchio has encouragingly stated his wish to stay, although no agreement has yet been reached. Rumours are that Kilkenny has followed Johnson in rejecting Leeds’ advances, although this hasn’t been confirmed by club or player.

But the key question in all of this remains. Why do Leeds leave it so late?

By opening negotiations early, the club can take some of the power from the player. Leeds can tie down their key players without the worry of other clubs trying to get them on the cheap due to them nearing the end of their contracts, or sell them and get their market value.

Leeds have taken advantage of the Bosman ruling themselves to sign a number of first-team players, including Kasper Schmeichel, Lloyd Sam, Fede Bessone and Billy Paynter this summer.

Current players, though, seem to be seen as less of a priority. Schmeichel has impressed since arriving at Elland Road but only signed a two-year deal, meaning this time next year he could be in the same situation as Johnson, Kilkenny and Becchio.

In-form captain Jonny Howson’s contact also expires in 2012, but Leeds seem happy to bide their time.

It’s painfully obvious that it would be in the club’s interest to act quickly, but with Ken Bates in charge, the obvious rarely happens.

Bates may be looking after the club’s interests by not splashing the cash like a certain Mr Ridsdale did in the past, but by not securing the futures of the club’s key young players, he is taking a big risk. All at Leeds United are hoping that his policy will pay off.

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  1. EW

    22 November, 2010 at 20:22

    One lesson Leeds have learned is not to pay players salaries that they cant afford and which the players are not worth. Who is to know if these players wouldnt commit last season not knowing if Leeds would be a Div1 or Championship side. How could Leeds decide what their finances would stretch to without knowing what division they would be in.
    If these players are offerd the going rate for a championship side the size of Leeds and allowances made for promotion/demotion issues then let them go where the grass is greener and have players who want to play for Leeds.
    Rumour is Becchio will sign but Kilkenny wont which would be just fine by me.

  2. gavin

    22 November, 2010 at 20:58

    hope kilkenny stay hes a good player

  3. Adrian

    22 November, 2010 at 22:03

    I only wish more clubs would make a stance about players (agents) holding all to ransom, so what if he goes i would imagine we have in some way shape or form recouped the suggested 250K fee, its about time wage caps were re-introduced and whilst at it surely agents fees in entirety should be paid by the player NOT club.

  4. Ben

    22 November, 2010 at 22:35

    Becchio is important, I would like us to keep him and Kilkenny if possible, but greedy Johnson can do one! Who does he think he is!? No premiership club would touch him with a bargepole and he won’t get a better offer in the Championship – I hope he leaves without a club, only to be signed by Accrington on half what he’s on now.

  5. Neil

    22 November, 2010 at 23:35

    Johnson is nowhere close to being my favourite player – I wanted him dropped months ago – we appear to have better available. Watt, Sam, Gradel, Clayton, Snoddy, Killa, Howson, etc. The way he tackles, or doesn’t. His woeful shooting, I just don’t see what Grayson sees in him. But having said that, we have no clue what he was offered, and as he is a starter for a top 6 Championship team he should be paid accordingly. If that is 8-14k per week and he’s offered 4-6k then he should refuse it. So calling him greedy might not be accurate. And if he’s a starter for Leeds why wouldn’t he start at most other Championship clubs, in our minds they aren’t as big as Leeds, but I’m sure Johnson’s not a Leeds fan, and even if he was, why would he play for a lot less than he can get elsewhere.

  6. Kazakh White

    23 November, 2010 at 07:22

    Lets not worry about this too much. We are not a Top 4 premier team (in league position anyway) Johnson, Kilkenny and Becchio have all contributed to our recent success but lets not kid ourselves that we are trying to retain Messi Xavi and Iniesta. if any one of the current team leaves an adequate replacement can be found. The only problem is whether the replacement settles in so its probably better to keep what you know that works but its not a big deal.

    we might seemingly miss Beckford but our games haven’t been short of goals! He did his job, got us up moved good luck, th £2m from Newcastle wasnt worth staying down

    Also if we manage to cling on to a top 6 and do a blackpool none of these 3 will be any use and we will end up paying wages for a reserves player.

  7. Joe

    23 November, 2010 at 07:35

    If they want to play for Leeds they will sign new deals, if they don’t then fine they can go. I actually agree with not offering new deals to players until they’re down to the last 6 months, as we shouldn’t be making unrealistic financial commitments. I’d rather follow a club that was financially watertight than a club paying whatever it takes to get the best players (because we know what that leads to).

  8. Mik

    23 November, 2010 at 08:58

    This write of this articel assumes that we want to keep all those players.

    Bechio is in negotiations and for me he is the only one we should keep now. Kilkenny would merely be a journeyman in the premiership, should we get lucky, and while I believe Johnson to be better I think the championship is his home and he too would be outclassed in the premiership.
    Don’t get me wrong I like both players and I think they have done well for LUFC but they have peaked. If we keep them and stay in championship then there is a place for them.

    I have my bet that we will make play-offs but being realistic it is optimistic and we are in a good place this week. Our strikers and midfield have scored many and we have many options – we could lose a couple without harm. But our defence is still leaking badly and we need better and more consitency. Focus should be on sorting out defence.


  9. Simon Glanville (author)

    23 November, 2010 at 09:49

    Thanks for all your comments.

    To Mik, I haven’t assumed we want to keep all three players, Grayson has confirmed as such.

    I’d personally be happy for Johnson to go but would like to see Becchio and Kilkenny stay. It’s all well and good saying we can bring in replacements but will Bates give Grayson the funds to do so?

  10. Robin

    23 November, 2010 at 14:31

    The article is written with a distinct ‘anti-Bates’ flavour, which is confirmed by the comment made by the author.

    It is right that the club should not be held to ransom by average players such as Johnson, just like they didn’t let Richardson and Douglas do it in the past.

    Becchio is the only one we really need to keep, the others are replacable.

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