THE players involved in the recent exodus from Leeds United to Norwich City were told one thing by the supporters they left behind – that Leeds would pass them on their way back down from the Premier League.
United are lodged as firmly in the Championship as they were on the days when Norwich used their superior wealth to prise Bradley Johnson, Jonathan Howson, Robert Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio from Elland Road but City will join them next season, resigned to a relegation which could bring the spine of Leeds’ 2010-11 squad back to West Yorkshire.
Norwich lie three points short of safety in the Premier League with one game to play this weekend and the club’s goal difference effectively confirmed that they would be relegated after Sunderland beat West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night.
Their three seasons in the top flight relied to a degree on a transfer policy at Carrow Road which involved picking gems out of Leeds United’s squad.
Johnson was the first to go from Elland Road in 2011 and Howson and Snodgrass moved in the same direction before the start of the 2012-13 season. Becchio’s sale in 2013 continued a demoralising trend.
In total, Leeds raked in fees of more than £5million and took Steve Morison as part of Norwich’s purchase of Becchio but the impact of that money was never felt. Fifteenth in the Championship, as United ranked this term, is their worst finish since promotion from League One in 2010.
Johnson, Howson, Snodgrass and Becchio were four prongs of Leeds’ classy attack during the season that followed.
The club finished a wasteful seventh in the Championship having held second place at Christmas and a play-off position with less than a month of the term to go.
Jon Newsome, the retired defender who left Leeds for Norwich in 1994, said the beeline of players from Elland Road to Carrow Road was an obvious explanation for United’s struggle to escape from the Championship.
“They aren’t the sort of players a club like Leeds should be selling,” Newsome said.
“They’re the sort of players a club like Leeds should be building around.
“There are times when it makes sense to do a deal or take the money but if that money is only being used to balance the books, you’ll never go anywhere as a team.
“That group at Norwich could have had a huge impact for Leeds this season and it’s easy to understand the frustration at Elland Road. With most of those deals, Leeds really came off second best.”
Becchio could be seen as the exception to that rule, a striker who scored goals consistently for Leeds but has been isolated and under-used by Norwich.
The Argentinian is known to be unhappy with his lack of involvement at Carrow Road and cryptically tweeted “I don’t understand anything” after Norwich drew 0-0 at Chelsea on Sunday – a match in which he failed to make the bench.
Others around him have fared better. Johnson’s Premier League appearances total 96 and Howson has featured regularly. Snodgrass, a full-fledged Scotland international, has been arguably Norwich’s best player this season, a view which should be reflected by the club’s end-of-season awards.
The likelihood of Snodgrass turning out for Norwich at Elland Road next season is doubtful, however. He has been heavily linked with Celtic, the side he followed as a youngster, and made it clear that he would consider his future if City went down.
“What division we’re in will be relevant,” Snodgrass said. “If things go according to plan and we stay in the Premier League, I’ll have a year left and I’ll honour that.
“The Premier League is where it’s at and I’d be lying if I said anything other than that.”
Newsome said: “You never know how players will feel when push comes to shove.
“I was relegated with Norwich but back then a lot of us felt the urge to stick around. It’s okay pointing fingers or claiming that you did your bit but when a club get relegated, responsibility falls on everyone without exception. Some players feel inclined to stay and put it right.
“It’s hard to say what will happen with Snodgrass but I know he’s a good player, one of Norwich’s best this season. He’ll cost a bit of money but Premier League clubs could be tempted so perhaps Norwich will find that what happened to Leeds, happens to them now.”