For football fans the summer is always a time for optimism. You’re awaiting the first game of the season, a few new players have arrived and you’ve got a couple of pre-season friendlies under your belt. The signs point to it being your year this year. Unfortunately as a Leeds fan we have been brought back down to earth with a massive bump.
Player sales, lack of signings, a mad Italian man doing his best to upset absolutely everyone are just a few of the things that have prematurely ruined the summer for us. This year, however, there has been an increase in positivity from both the fans and the club itself. This got me thinking about previous years, about the ins and outs, managerial changes, ownership structures, everything.
With Leeds back in the Championship after a three year stay in League One, confidence was high and fans were excited for what lay ahead. After a dramatic win on the final day of the season to secure promotion, the club had bid farewell to top goalscorer and all-around hero Jermaine Beckford who made the move to Everton with everyone’s best wishes. Simon Grayson’s task was to bolster his squad to prepare to stay in the Championship.
It was to be a busy transfer window for the club, seeing a number of arrivals as well as some departures, keeping fans guessing about what was to come. Rui Marques, Casper Ankergren and Paul Dickov departed after their contracts expired. Alan Sheehan and Tresor Kandol had their contracts mutually terminated, ending their long stints away from the first team.
Sanchez Watt returned to the club on loan from Arsenal after being part of the promotion-winning side the year before. Neill Collins made his loan from the previous season permanent, joining from Preston.
Ross McCormack would join from Cardiff City for an undisclosed fee (reportedly around £400,000) having fallen out of favour following an injury lay-off. This was considered a good signing by most people, especially as Cardiff had turned down a £4m bid for the striker just one year earlier.
Arriving with a strong goals to games ratio, McCormack joined Luciano Becchio, Davide Somma and Mike Grella as well as another new recruit, Billy Paynter, who had joined from Swindon after his contract had expired. Paynter had scored four goals in two games against The Whites the previous season and a total of 26 goals in the league, and in the match at Elland Road he and Charlie Austin had looked a cut above anyone else on the pitch.
To add to United’s defence, in came Alex Bruce from Ipswich, as well as full backs Paul Connolly and Federico Bessone. With Ben Parker spending much of the previous season injured, Bessone came in looking like he would make the position his own. He had a very good season for Swansea the previous year with some statistics websites having him down as the best left-back in the league. Paul Connolly came in as replacement for Jason Crowe and Andy Hughes, both seen as not being of the quality needed for Championship football.
Arguably, Leeds’ first piece of business was also their biggest. Kasper Schmeichel agreed a deal after spending the season at Notts County, coming in as their record signing while Munto Finance were incharge (when they also installed Sven-Goran Eriksson as Director Of Football and signed Sol Campbell on a 5-year deal less than a month before his 35th birthday). Schmeichel was highly rated at both Notts County and previous club Manchester City, aged just 23. He was given the number one shirt ahead of the incredibly handsome Shane Higgs and, except for a short period of injury, was the first choice goalkeeper all season.
Other incomings were; Lloyd Sam, a right winger coming in to provide cover for Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel. He signed from Charlton having had a good season in League One, they couldn’t afford his wages so his contract was allowed to run out.
Honduran Internation Ramon Nunez, of whom little was known except that he had won MVP during the 2011 Copa Centroamericana, and that he had turned down clubs in the Mexican Premier League to try his luck in Europe.
Finally there was Adam Clayton, a youngster from Manchester City whose debut was memorable or him committing two fouls in his first minute on the pitch.
Of the new recruits, only Schmiechel and Connolly would be considered first team regulars. Neill Collins was sold to rivals Sheffield United in January, while Paynter, McCormack and Sam were regularly on the bench. Nunez and Clayton were sent out on loan and Alex Bruce had spells in the starting line-up before losing his place. Bessone was very quickly dropped from the left back spot, with Simon Grayson deeming him not mentally strong enough after a particularly poor performance against Barnsley.
After a mixed bag of results during the first quarter of the season, Leeds would lift themselves up to second place in December after a memorable victory over QPR. Unfortunately, Leeds would find consistency difficult and finished the season in seventh place, just three points outside the play-offs. Had Leeds not been in second place in December then it may have felt like a more successful season. Instead it had the feel of Leeds running out of steam and lacking quality depth to maintain the challenge (sound familiar?). Fans would look ahead to what seemed like the perfect opportunity to add to the side and push for promotion the following season.