LEEDS United embarked on their tour of Devon and Cornwall yesterday with Neil Warnock admitting he wants as many as eight more signings before the Championship season begins on August 18.
The United manager spelled out the scale of task in front of him after a threadbare squad kicked off pre-season with a 5-2 victory over Farsley on Friday night.
The involvement of seven young professionals was necessary to allow Warnock to field a different team in either half at Throstle Nest, and this week’s tour of the south west of England will take place without the resources which United’s boss aimed to have in place.
A tally of four summer signings by the penultimate week of July – Jason Pearce, Adam Drury, Paul Green and Paddy Kenny – fell so far short of Warnock’s expectations that he has yet to allocate squad numbers, a situation he said he could barely recall in all his time as a professional manager.
“You want your signings done so you can put them in teams, show them how you work and give them squad numbers,” he said.
“This is the first time I’ve ever gone back for pre-season training without squad numbers. And quite honestly there could be so many changes in the next few weeks that there was no point. I said to the kit man ‘I’m sorry but you’ll need to get on with that further down the line.’
“I’d probably like to bring another eight in. Don’t forget you need a squad, not just the top-end-of-the-market players. You need players for back-up when you get injuries all of a sudden. You’ve got to have a decent squad.
“Our time in Cornwall is vital and it disappoints me a little that we haven’t got more players in at this stage. The young lads have done well and we’re going to need them in Cornwall. We’ve got a few little niggles and until new players come in, we’re going to have to fill holes and get through the fitness side of things.
“It’s not been the easiest of summers for me but I can’t remember when I last had one of them. Some things you can’t prevent in football. I’ve got to keep plugging away and get names ticked off the list. There are lots of names on it.”
The 63-year-old has known for some time that assistance is on the horizon in the form of a planned takeover at Elland Road.
A group of investors from the Middle East began inspecting United’s accounts last month and have been on the verge of completing a buy-out for the past fortnight.
Warnock is waiting only for a final agreement which prompts the release of badly-needed funds.
Warnock’s assistant, Mick Jones, expressing sympathy his manager after a fraught summer of transfer negotiations.
“I’ve never known Neil work as hard as this,” Jones said. “All summer he’s been at it and I just hope it’s exciting times over the next two weeks.”
A number of signings are pending, waiting only to “cross the line” in Warnock’s words, and the agreement of a new three-year contract with Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Aidan White has resolved one pressing concern.
United have finalised a deal to sign Luke Varney from Portsmouth but will not be able conclude the deal until Varney and Portsmouth resolved the issue of deferred wages owed to him. Portsmouth’s administrator, Trevor Birch, said “compromise” negotiations were ongoing with a view to hastening Varney’s departure.
Jamaican midfielder Rodolph Austin, another target who Leeds have been chasing intently, expected his appearance for SK Brann in a Norwegian league match yesterday to be his last before a transfer to Elland Road. Brann have been holding out for a fee of around £350,000 after turning down an initial offer from United.
Warnock, meanwhile, has two experienced trialists in his squad, Andy Gray and Martin Cranie. Both started Friday’s friendly at Farsley and Gray scored the opening two goals, raising the chances of him earning a contract at the club where he began his career 17 years ago.
Jones said: “We’ve known Andy for a long time and all through pre-season he’s probably been the third fittest player at the club.
“That’s quite remarkable when you consider how long a career he’s had.
“But he’s a proud lad and I’ve got this sneaking feeling that he’s come here to prove a point. He came in more or less on his suggestion and because we knew him we wanted to help. I think Andy Gray is a very good player.”
Warnock’s options at Farsley were reduced by the omission of club captain Robert Snodgrass, left out after complaining of a tight hamstring and also to shield him from attention caused by two bids made for him from Norwich City. Luciano Becchio and Adam Drury also played no part but were named along with Snodgrass in the squad selected for the three-match visit to Devon and Cornwall.
The transfer-listed pair of Billy Paynter and Ramon Nunez completed 45 minutes at Throstle Nest, with Paynter scoring Leeds’ fourth goal, but Warnock played down the possibility of them regaining a place in his plans.
“At the moment I’m looking ahead and trying to bring people in so it would be difficult for me to say yes to that,” he said. “They wouldn’t be on the transfer list if I thought they could still be involved.”
Warnock’s tours of the south west – an annual event at almost every club he manages – are designed to have something for everyone: a stringent fitness programme for his players but a schedule which is inclusive of the thousands of supporters who will attend tonight’s match at Tavistock, Wednesday’s friendly against Bodmin Town and the last match of the tour at Torquay United on Friday evening. An open training session will be staged at Duchy College in Callington tomorrow.
“The next three games coming up aren’t be about the quality of the football,” Jones said. “They’re about the quality of the fitness.
“The first 45 minutes at Farsley were exactly what we needed and we ran the players hard afterwards. That’s very unusual but it shows you what we’re trying to do at this stage. We’re working on proper fitness.”
A young Leeds United XI ran out 2-0 winners in a pre-season friendly at Alfreton Town on Saturday.
Dominic Poleon and Lewis Turner scored the goals for a Leeds side which included transfer-listed goalkeeper Paul Rachubka.