Take a long hard look at the league table. After another round of fixtures, Leeds United sit in 21st position, two points above Millwall but a long way from anything resembling safety.
A buzz phrase that was floating around Twitter about two weeks ago was “we’re not in a relegation battle”, but the reality is that if results don’t improve in the near future, Leeds will have already lost the war. The Whites are a team without form, without a goal from open play in a staggering six matches, a team without graft or experience or anyone who can guarantee a performance on any given day.
One of the few players this season who has impressed with any regularity is Stephen Warnock, a staggering turnaround from last season when he found himself behind Danny Pugh in the pecking order. The former England international has made himself integral to the team, and it was no particular surprise when Neil Redfearn made him the captain.
The quote has already made it’s way around over the last day, since Phil Hay revealed that Warnock was likely to move to a Championship rival (although given the distance between us and Derby, it’s hard to consider them to be rivals) over the next day or so. Robert Snodgrass, a few years ago, questioned how you can claim to be pushing for promotion and sell your captain, shortly after Jonny Howson was sold to Norwich City.
You can deconstruct that phrase and turn it around any way you want, but the reality is that you’re never going to achieve your goals for the season by selling your captain and most consistent performer. Right now, Leeds’ goal is to stay in this division next season.
Warnock’s departure makes even less sense when you consider that the Elland Road side, slapped with a transfer embargo, can only sign four players in the January window. None of the three teams below Leeds in the table are suffering from a similar transfer embargo, and you’d have to look up to Blackburn in 10th for one of the other two sides who’ve suffered the same fate. Leeds’ rivals can all improve to their heart’s content to stay up – we can’t.
So why weaken the side in the first place? Warnock going means Neil Redfearn’s side have to sign another left back, no questions asked. Charlie Taylor was good against Sunderland and Bolton, but look at Alex Mowatt for an example of what can happen if you expect far too much from a young player every week. With Gaetano Berardi seemingly now first choice right back after Sam Byram’s switch to the right wing, Leeds have no cover at left back should Warnock go, except for the consistently inconsistent Aidy White. That’s one signing down already, with no guarantee that they can match up to Warnock, weakening Leeds already.
The Yorkshire club already need a new central defender, a pair of new wingers, because the ones playing out wide since the Sunderland game are still makeshift, and probably a new striker to take some of the burden away from Mirco Antenucci. Which one of those signings would you drop if given the choice? It’s hard to say.
Aside from that, it just doesn’t make sense to lose a key player heading into a key part of the season. While Warnock probably wants to go to a promotion challenging side, earning a longer deal in the process, Leeds have no obligation to let him leave until the summer. If Massimo Cellino wants to ensure he still owns a Championship side come the summer, it makes no sense to let Warnock go.