CHINA has emerged as a possible destination for Luciano Becchio following the Leeds United striker’s shock submission of a transfer request.
The 29-year-old yesterday brought weeks of speculation about his future to a head by telling the Yorkshire club he wants to leave Elland Road.
Hull City and Wigan Athletic are among the English clubs to have previously shown an interest in Becchio, who has been the subject of two recent unsuccessful bids from abroad.
However, insiders at the KC Stadium have told the Yorkshire Post that the Argentinian striker is leaning towards a big money move to China.
Recent high-profile arrivals in the Super League include former Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
United, who had been hoping to agree a new contract extension with the striker, yesterday paved the way for Becchio’s departure by admitting that he could leave if an “acceptable” bid – believed to be in excess of £2m – came in.
For manager Neil Warnock, it means the worst possible preparation for this weekend’s glamour FA Cup fourth-round tie at home to Tottenham Hotspur as he looks to plot an upset against the Premier League outfit.
The news that the club’s top scorer wants to leave also increases the pressure on new owners GFH Capital to bolster the squad.
If, as seems likely, Becchio does leave this month, it will represent the fifth transfer window in the last six that a key player has left Elland Road.
Jermaine Beckford started the ball rolling by walking away on a free transfer to Everton in the summer of 2010 after his contract had expired.
A year later, Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny also departed in Bosman deals, to Norwich City and Bristol City respectively, as Max Gradel moved to French club St Etienne, while January last year saw captain Jonny Howson also move to Carrow Road.
Then, last summer, Robert Snodgrass became the third United player to join the Canaries.
Supporters had hoped that last year’s takeover by Dubai-based GFH would mean an end to the exodus of star names. However, despite Leeds attempting in recent weeks to agree a new extended deal with the club’s highest earner, it seems their 19-goal top scorer is on his way out of West Yorkshire.
In a statement released yesterday in the wake of Becchio’s submitted transfer request, a United spokesman said: “He (Becchio), who has been the subject of two bids from foreign clubs during the January transfer window, has handed in a transfer request as financially he believes his best interests are served by a move away from Leeds United.
“Both bids have been rejected and the player will only be allowed to leave in the event that an acceptable offer is received.
“The club have sought to agree the terms of a new contract with the player, who is already the highest earner, but the requested terms were beyond a level that we could support, particularly in view of the regulations relating to Financial Fair Play that will be effective in coming seasons.
“It is disappointing that this situation has occurred when he is under contract until June 30, 2014.”
Becchio’s representatives were unavailable for comment last night.
Should an “acceptable” offer come in over the remaining week of the window, it will represent the end of a four-and-a-half year stay at Elland Road for the club’s longest-serving player.
His departure will also increase the need to bring in at least one new striker, something Warnock earmarked as a priority long before Becchio’s desire to get away first emerged.
So far, Leeds have added just one fresh face – Everton loanee Ross Barkley – since the opening of the window. Michael Tonge, who spent time on loan at Elland Road earlier this season, has joined on a permanent deal, as has another one-time loanee, Ryan Hall, of Southend United.
United have, though, enquired about Aston Villa left-back Stephen Warnock, though they face competition from fellow Championship outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Former Player of the Year Gradel has also been mentioned as a possible transfer target for the Yorkshire club.