Should Leeds want to build on the positives steps made in 2016-2017, there are absolute fundamentals that need to be retained. In particular, Garry Monk and his coaching team, Chris Wood, and the defensive partnership of Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson. There might be difficulties with each, but none more so than loanee/captain Bartley.
Despite not being on contract at Leeds, only on loan, and not the first choice for the role, Bartley is the best club captain Leeds have had since Jonny Howson, an impeccable leader in the centre of Leeds best defence not seen since the days of Ian Harte, Gary Kelly & Lucas Radebe. After playing more minutes and making more appearances than any other outfield player, it’s difficult to imagine next season without him.
But the inconvenient truth is that he’s not our player.
Paul Clement’s recent comments were felt like a dagger blow to Leeds fans, but they shouldn’t have come as a surprise. One of the follies of the loan system is that on the occasions that you do strike gold - as Garry Monk did when rejoining his old teammate from Swansea - there can be no longterm planning for that success. In fact, the better they do, the harder it is to keep them. It would be lunacy to expect his form would go unnoticed at his parent club.
And so, the ball is in Swansea’s court. Should they want to keep him, there’s little that a Championship club can do to take him away. For Leeds, we can only assess the situation at Swansea and speculate on the circumstances that might make Paul Clement go back on his words, although they sounded concerningly unwavering on the matter.
His comments were made a few days ago, as Swansea still faced the possibility of relegation. Over the weekend Swansea picked up three points - and Hull lost - to ensure their status as a Premier League club next season.
It can only be conjecture, but the gut feeling is that this is good news for Leeds battle to keep Bartley.
Should they have been relegated, they would surely turn to a player who has experience in The Championship, and has shown himself capable of playing in a promotion-chasing defence.
It would not be quite so cut and dry, remaining in the top flight.
For one, Paul Clement has experience working with a central defensive partnership that has come good during the relegation run-in. Federico Fernandez is an international calibre player, and Alfie Mawson has emerged as one of the most promising young centre-halves in the country - as good as Kyle Bartley is, it would be immensely difficult to break into the first team next season.
That’s not to mention the top flight’s obsession with the transfer market, and the potential for extra competition.
Should Bartley fail to get assurances of regular playing time, you would expect the player to look for a move. At 25 years old, this season with Leeds was the first in his career of regular competitive football. In the prime years of a career, it’s difficult to go back to being a benchwarmer who might hope to play in League Cup outings and in the event of injuries.
If this turns out to be the case, whether that’s after initial meetings with Paul Clement, during Swansea’s pre-season, or in the early weeks of the season in August, Leeds need to be monitoring the situation.
If this all comes to pass, we can’t afford to miss the opportunity. If he’s available, it would be an excellent statement of intent for Andrea Radrizzani to spend whatever it takes to bring Bartley back where he belongs.