Yup, The Woodsman is returning to the big time. It’s a crazy set of circumstances but Leeds United are gonna have to find themselves a new target man because Burnley have put up the cash. Rumours had carried on all off-season, bids had been submitted and rejected. Leeds even offered a new contract but the All Whites forward rejected it. Now he’ll be hoping that it’s third time lucky in the English top flight.
It all got serious in the 24 hours before Leeds played Sunderland in their fourth game of the new Championship season. There had already been news of Burnley’s initial bid in the papers and word was that they’d had a second and improved one knocked back too. Then, just hours after the Leeds journos reported Woody had a new contract extension on the table, the Daily Mirror jumped the gun in saying the move to Burnley was all sorted but for the medical.
Now, the Mirror ain’t exactly your first port of call for honest football news. It’s a step above the Mail or Sun of course but it’s also not the BBC. If the Beeb report it then it’s good as done, if the Mirror report it then it’s worth paying attention to but maybe wait for a couple other sources first. Well, as far as sources go the player himself is about the best one out there and despite having travelled and trained with the team, Woody politely excused himself from the Sunderland match…
A match which Leeds won comfortably enough without him, actually. New fella Sammy Saiz scored early and Stuart Dallas added a second in the other half for a 2-0 victory that keeps the Whites undefeated into the new season. So the lads got that win Woody was asking for but in withdrawing from this match you already knew he’s as good as gone.
It’s weird though because all the indications were that he was going nowhere. He’d been keen enough to stay and the club was determined to keep him after all he did last season. We even wrote a thing a month or two back about why he’d wanna stay with the club that he finally began to reach his potential at – pretty much based around the key role he had in that team and the success he’d had after a nomadic career previously.
But there were a few worries and that article actually started out being way more ambiguous than it ended up being. Gone were manager Garry Monk and forwards coach James Beattie who, in their one season with him, obviously had such a huge impact on Wood’s career. Gone also were a few of the major players that helped LUFC to the brink of the playoffs (and they shoulda got there too – the five game winless streak that ended their campaign is gonna be one hell of a ‘what if’ in Wood’s career, if not the whole history of Leeds United). Leeds are still in a place to compete for the playoffs again… but Woody’s skipping that step and going straight to the top instead.
Wood was already the club’s top earner and his contract had another season on it after this one. Perhaps there was a little hint there when he didn’t immediately sign a new deal after last season’s glory amidst the rumours from Premier League interest. The new offer that Leeds did table was probably their last attempt at keeping him and when he didn’t take it they knew what was coming. £15m plus change is hardly Neymar money, however that kinda cash doesn’t come around often in the Champo – in fact it’ll probably come in around the sixth most expensive fee ever received by a Championship club ever and considering the top four were all for players who’d just been relegated that’s something impressive. Wood’s earned this fee through Champo footy alone.
It’s also a fee that’ll break Burnley’s record incoming transfer digits, the fifth time in a little over two years that they’ve broken that one (Andre Gray -> Steven Defour -> Jeff Hendrick -> Robbie Brady -> Chris Wood). And from Burnley’s point of view it makes total sense.
Sean Dyche took Burnley to the Premier League in 2014-15, having finished second behind the goals of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings. However they’d find the top flight tougher than they were capable of fending off and with only 33 points they went tumbling back down. That was back in the days when Cameron Howieson was playing in their academy but he was released after they went down – just as Ings and Kieran Trippier were sold after strong campaigns. They used that cash (along with the ol’ parachute payments) on Andre Gray who was brilliant with 23 goals and Burnley, having kept the rest of their team intact, were able to shoot right back up again as champions.
This time they better prepared. Michael Keane and Ben Mee forged a great centre back pairing while Andre Gray and Sam Vokes scored 19 PL goals between them. Crucially they also added some handy talent in January to give the squad a boost – Joey Barton, Ashley Westwood and Robbie Brady, all with Premier League experience. Oddly they only won one away game all season (2-0 vs Crystal Palace) but their form at Turf Moor was superb and with 40 points they dodged relegation with a couple weeks to spare. They may not be the most expensive team and they’re full of British and Irish players which isn’t really a trend these days, plus players with Championship level experience, but under Dyche’s management they’re a tight and tricky team to play.
This new term famously began with that 3-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – matching last time’s away win total in one week against the defending champs. They also went and sold Michael Keane for big bucks to Everton and Andre Gray to Watford, also for big bucks. And, erm, Joey Barton was suspended and released but he doesn’t really matter. They have heaps of talented midfielders already and added Jack Cork from Swansea to the mix.
Nah, it’s Gray’s departure that matters here because with him leaving they needed a new striker. Hence the bids for Chris Wood and now they’ve got their man. Wood is making a sacrifice in jumping up a division with a new team. There’s no guarantee of game time like there was with Leeds and he’s been there before, sitting on the bench for Leicester all those times before finally leaving for Leeds (after a brief loan at Ipswich went nowhere). But he’s also joining one of the few Premier League teams that’s gonna play the way that suits him best. Burnley still like a good cross into the box, they still like a set piece and a target man. Welshman Sam Vokes is not all that dissimilar to Wood and in that way he might suit them slightly better than the quicker, more skilful Andre Gray did with his runs in behind and all that. There’s a risk this makes them a tad one dimensional but that’s fine for Wood.
Look, he coulda stayed at Leeds and he would’ve been playing every game and scoring goals. That’s cool. With Burnley, though, he’s found a club that’s desperate enough to buy him that they’ve broken their transfer record and with the lingering doubt that maybe he’s a Championship level player (harsh after only ten PL games), he’s joining a club that, under Sean Dyche, has been one of the most willing to give chances to players from the division below. Exactly what he needs and the rest is all up to him. Worst case scenario is the Clarets get relegated and Leeds get promoted in their place but that only happens if he doesn’t score goals.
Because pretty clearly he’s taken this as an opportunity to advance the old career. He’ll still be gutted about not kicking on with West Brom or Leicester in his previous Premier League stints – although he did once score the equaliser for the Foxes in a game against Everton – and not only is he a much better player now but his stocks might never be higher than they are now after netting 30 times last campaign. At 25 years old he’s coming into the prime of his career and he probably feels like he needs to keep challenging himself to get better. Well, here’s his chance.
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