The 2019/20 Championship season is less than a month away, and Leeds have just announced the departure of influential defender Pontus Jansson, who joins Brentford for a reported £5.5million plus add-ons.
Marcelo Bielsa is thought to have sanctioned Jansson’s departure to a fellow Championship side after a complete breakdown in their relationship, and sought to facilitate a quick termination of their time together. However, in doing so, the boss has left himself with one arm tied behind his back as he puts the first-team through their paces at Thorp Arch.
Losing an influential, albeit sometimes controversial, figure like Jansson has left Bielsa preparing for the upcoming term with Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi as our only recognised senior centre-backs. Academy graduate Conor Shaughnessy, meanwhile, will be on the fringes longing for a first United appearance in the second-tier since January 2018, and the Whites have added 21-year-old Ben White on loan.
With Berardi also suspended for our first game of season against Bristol City on August 4, Shaughnessy’s chances of at least making the bench are boosted, as we may be forced to line up at Ashton Gate with Cooper and White holding firm with their backs to our goal.
Cooper may have joined Jansson in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for the 2018/19 season, but the 27-year-old Scot averaged fewer tackles, clearances, and blocked shots, crosses and passes per ninety minutes than the 28-year-old Sweden international, while only marginally edging Jansson for interceptions.
White, meanwhile, spent the recent campaign as part of Brighton & Hove Albion’s Under 23s, before securing a mid-season loan deal with Peterborough, with whom he made 15 appearances in League One, where his contributions helped to three clean sheets.
Now entrusting the 21-year-old centre-back to stand firm against a side in Bristol City who will be pushing to kick the season off strongly in a new bid for promotion may be a tough ask for the on-loan defender. If White cannot show enough in pre-season to convince Bielsa he can meet the grade next month, the boss will have to push Victor Orta to sign another defender who can.
One name the Whites chiefs could consider is former Bolton, Chelsea and England centre-back Gary Cahill, who is still a free agent having left the Stamford Bridge side at the end of the recent term when his £100,000-a-week contract expired.
We would struggle to offer the 33-year-old anywhere near that amount, with our highest earners believed to be Patrick Bamford and Kiko Casilla in the £30,000-a-week bracket, but Cahill would come to Elland Road with a CV boasting Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League success, along with captaining the Three Lions on numerous occasions.
Historically, the 6 ft 3 ace performed consistently well in the Premier League, up until the recent campaign when Maurizio Sarri handed him just two substitute outings in the top-flight.
In the prior nine Premier League campaigns he partook in, Cahill averaged 29.2 appearances, 2,513.4 minutes, and 1.4 tackles per ninety minutes, along with 1.4 interceptions, 7.6 clearances, and 1.5 blocks.
His availability as a free agent is also something former Leeds striker Noel Whelan feels the club should be jumping on.
“Leeds have to go into the market [for a centre-back] now,” Whelan told Football Insider. “We are three centre-backs short and have only brought one in, Ben White.
“Gary Cahill would be great. Leeds will be looking at him. I certainly would be if I was Marcelo Bielsa. He’d be perfect for us.
“He’s a leader, has excellent experience at the top level, a really good defender, dominant in both penalty boxes, and would be good in the dressing room.
“It’s certainly possible if we could sort the wages out. The advantage is that there would be no transfer fee involved, so that would make it a great short-term deal.”