Former Bolton Wanderer Stephen Warnock's return with Leeds United is a reminder of what the Whites once had
WHEN Wanderers found themselves suffering from a rele-gation hangover 12 months ago, Owen Coyle reached for an instant cure in battle-hardened full-back Stephen Warnock.
The former Liverpool trainee had been wasting away in the reserves at Aston Villa, where his oft-reported big salary had become a bone of contention with new boss Paul Lambert.
He was a man with a point to prove and an experienced head who eventually became a key figure in Dougie Freedman’s early Wanderers plans, when the Glaswegian came in to steady the ship in October. One year down the line and with Warnock set to return to the Reebok with Leeds United on Saturday, how the Whites boss would love the same kind of spare cash to secure someone of similar standing.
Though Warnock’s debut saw him given a memorable run-around by Wilfried Zaha and Freedman’s Crystal Palace, the ex-England full-back gained plenty of fans with a series of committed displays before his pre-Christmas return to Villa Park. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come but talk of a permanent move was scuppered by the 31-year-old’s financial demands – which made his move to Elland Road, and a club seemingly with little cash to spend, all the more puzzling.
It later emerged that West Ham had also made an offer to take him to the Premier League but that the two-and-a-half year deal on offer at Leeds had been the deciding factor.
Freedman rated the defender and had hailed Warnock as “a winner” shortly before the expiry of his loan but his decision not to pursue a deal was perhaps also shaped by the emergence of Marcos Alonso from the shadows of the squad to become a regular starter.
The Liverpudlian heads back to Bolton this weekend with his former club in a similarly difficult position to the one he discovered on his arrival from Villa.
Freedman needs leaders but with money tighter than ever before, cannot select freely from the pool of players now potentially available after the Premier League clubs announced their 25-man squads last week.
In a strange twist of fate, the arrival of Leeds this weekend could see a fresh start for a player linked all summer with a move over the Pennines.
Matt Mills was another Coyle addition last year that reflected a more financially free-and-easy time at the Reebok. And while those same high salary issues have probably prevented the former Leicester City defender moving out on loan in the last few months, he could now be given a surprise second chance in the light of Wanderers’ problems at the back.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott knows all about Mills from his days at Reading but the Yorkshire club’s interest in signing him appears to have been limited to a single phone call.
Blackpool got closer, offering only a tiny percentage of the 27-year-old’s wage to take him on loan for the season last month, only to be rejected out of hand.
A reunion with McDermott was given plenty of credence over the summer but now with Zat Knight and David Wheater both looking out of sorts, could the Leeds boss live to regret not making his move?