Leeds exit door will close after Howson - Bates faces critics

EMBATTLED Leeds United manager Simon Grayson last night moved to assure fans that no other key players will be following captain Jonny Howson out of Elland Road during the transfer window.

The Championship club have had a difficult week with the £2m sale of the Leeds-born midfielder to Norwich City having left supporters furious and accusing the board of lacking ambition.

An impromptu protest was held by around 150 disgruntled fans on Thursday night at the Billy Bremner statue and it is expected that chairman Ken Bates will come in for further criticism today when Ipswich Town visit West Yorkshire.

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Grayson, however, insists Howson’s departure, which was last night edging closer as the England Under-21 international underwent a medical at Carrow Road, was in the club’s best interests due to the midfielder being able to leave on a free transfer in the summer when his contract runs out.

The Leeds manager said: “I can understand everyone’s frustration and I am as frustrated as everyone else.

“Jonny has done very well for us but, ultimately, when the offer came in, I spoke to Jonny and he confirmed his desire to play in the Premier League.

“I am sure he would have liked to have done that with us but no one knows what the future holds. He felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down and we thought it was a good opportunity in a business sense. We can utilise the money to bring players in during this window.

“If the bid had been half as much then we wouldn’t even have considered it but we decided it was in the best interests of everyone to sell Jonny.”

Norwich’s interest first emerged last Monday and came as a major surprise to everyone at Elland Road, including Howson, who has been out for almost six weeks with a knee injury.

Grayson added: “We had a long meeting on Monday and we couldn’t afford the luxury of him getting out of contract and walking on a free. We have tried to tie Jonny down but this is what happens with the Bosman rule.

“We have chipped away in trying to get something done but Jonny has made it clear he wants to play in the Premier League.

“It was a difficult decision for Jonny but he had to weigh up many things. He felt the best opportunity was to secure Premier League football now.

“Nobody likes to lose their best players, especially on free transfers.

“It is difficult in this day and age with the Bosman ruling. (Gary) Cahill at Bolton is an example of players who have to be sold in the last year of their contracts. They have had to take half the money they were offered in the summer.

“Sometimes you can’t extend contracts because of the finances involved in it all. You never know if a player might get injured, then you would be stuck with someone on a lot of money who is not contributing to the team.”

Howson’s imminent departure comes two years on from the transfer window that saw Leeds turn down a £2m bid from Newcastle United for Jermaine Beckford due to their belief that the striker’s goals would help secure promotion from League One.

Asked by the Yorkshire Post if the decision to let the club captain leave was a sign that United had resigned themselves to not going up this time around, Grayson replied: “No, not at all. The money we have got in will go back in to bring players here. With Jermaine, we were a League One team, Newcastle were a Championship team and he didn’t want to go to the Championship.

“He was always going to hold out until a Premier League club came knocking to sign him on a free transfer. He didn’t have to move there and then to fulfil his ambition of going to a better league.

“We felt that the money could be utilised in a way that would give us a better chance of promotion and that was how it turned out. He was one who got us to the Championship.

“Would Jonny have got us to the Premier League? That is a difficult question to answer because he is still injured.

“He could be back in two weeks, a month or six weeks. It is still in the balance. That was a factor when we looked at it.

“We can use the money to bring in three or four players to make us stronger and that is what we are trying to do.”

With Howson on his way out, speculation as to whether Robert Snodgrass, Ross McCormack, Tom Lees and Adam Clayton could also be on their way has been a major talking point in Leeds over recent days.

Grayson, however, insists that no one else will be leaving this month as United look to bounce back from a disappointing run of just one win in six league outings.

He said: “Jonny’s deal suited us and him. But any other deal has to suit us, not the individual, because all the other players apart from Aidy White are all under contract for at least 18 months. We don’t have to do anything. If they want to leave then tough. They have got enough time on their contracts to make sure they are not going anywhere.

“We have got a group here who we feel can get promoted but it is all about succeeding in that. It is not a sign of a lack of ambition that a club is signing one of our players.

“Our ambition will be shown by speculation linking three or four of our others players with other clubs. But that won’t be happening and they won’t be leaving. It is utter nonsense.”