Leeds United v Bristol City: Scott Wootton happy to stay put and help lift Leeds

MUCH has changed since Scott Wootton first walked into Elland Road a little under two-and-a-half years ago.

Leeds United's Scott Wootton.

There has been a switch of ownership and that owner has proved a highly controversial figure, with a second ban from the Football League currently hanging over Massimo Cellino following his conviction in Italy over tax evasion.

Wootton’s time at Leeds has also seen the defender play under six different managers, while there have been upwards of 65 transfers – in and out of the club – since he joined from Manchester United late in August, 2013.

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Such is the pace of change, in fact, that of the 18 players on duty for Wootton’s debut against Doncaster Rovers in the League Cup, just three are still at Leeds. One of those, Luke Murphy, was a substitute that night, as United eased through to the third round courtesy of a 3-1 win, Alex Mowatt being the other.

Luke Murphy avoids a challenge from Bradley Johnson.

It is a ferocious turnover in personnel, especially considering this period amounts to a little over four-and-a-half transfer windows.

“I didn’t realise that,” said the 24-year-old defender when told by The Yorkshire Post of just how many have left the United dressing room. “I knew quite a few had moved on over the last couple of years but not to that extent.

“It is a bit mental, I suppose, to think so many have left, even though it wasn’t too long ago. But that is how football can be and we just have to get on with it.”

Wootton looked certain to join that exodus a little over a year ago. Frozen out by Darko Milanic, one of those half-a-dozen managers employed by Cellino, the Birkenhead-born defender was sent out on loan to Rotherham United.

Luke Murphy avoids a challenge from Bradley Johnson.

Steve Evans, now of course at the helm of Leeds, was in charge at the New York Stadium at the time and Wootton helped inspire an upturn in form.

Of his seven league appearances in December and early January, the Millers lost just once and there was talk of the deal being extended until the end of the season.

Then, though, came news from Elland Road that United wanted the defender back up the M1 and Wootton went straight into the starting XI at home to Birmingham City, staying there for the final 21 games.

“I did think I was leaving last season at one stage,” says the defender, who moved from Liverpool to Old Trafford in his teens. “A couple of clubs wanted me in the January (2015) and I wasn’t in the team here. Or the club’s plans, it seemed.

“It was strange. I’d played against Accrington in the League Cup back in August but nothing since. There were three or four of us in the same position, including Luke Murphy.

“For no reason, too. Or none I could really see. We were training with the Under-21s so when the chance came to go out on loan to Rotherham I jumped at it.

“The gaffer was in charge there at the time, which shows how funny things can work out in football. I played a few times in a month and that helped bring my belief back. The gaffer was great in helping me with that confidence.

“After that, I came back and got back in the team here and was really pleased to stay.”

Wootton’s youth career began at Tranmere Rovers but he moved across the Mersey to Anfield at the age of 13. He was quickly marked out as a huge prospect, the belief of the Liverpool youth coaches being such that Wootton was selected for the Under-18s at the tender age of 14.

Only two other youngsters had achieved that feat before, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen, but, in time, Wootton started to believe his future would be best served elsewhere. A move to Old Trafford followed at the age of 16 but, despite appearances in the League Cup and Champions League, a top-flight appearance proved elusive and he was snapped up by then Leeds chief Brian McDermott.

In his first season at Elland Road, United were handily placed for a promotion push at Christmas but, since then, mid-table has become familiar surroundings for the club. He remains adamant, however, that Leeds, given time, can be turned into genuine challengers in the Championship.

“I do believe we have a team and group who can grow if given time,” he said. “With more experience under our belts, this group could go places. I honestly believe that.

“A couple of summers ago, we made 16 signings. Then, last summer, not as many but we brought in real quality in the likes of Stuart Dallas, Chris Wood and, a bit later, Liam Bridcutt.

“Those three have made a big difference. You only had to look at their careers before coming here to see that they would and all three have done well.

“Now, there are a few areas that need strengthening but we have a good base to build on. We just need that time to gel. You say I have the fourth highest number of starts and Luke Murphy the most. That shows how quick things change, as we arrived at a similar time and not too long ago.”

After back-to-back defeats at Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, United have the opportunity to bounce back with two league games in four days. A trip to Brentford follows today’s home encounter with third bottom Bristol City before attention turns back to the FA Cup and a fourth round trip to Bolton Wanderers.

Wootton added: “The Cup is going to be big. We see this as an opportunity to make some progress, even though we know it will be tough from the first time we met Bolton earlier in the season.

“They are in a tough situation and will see the Cup as a chance to kick-start their season. But we want to go through and get our own season going again. A Cup run would work wonders.”