by James Oddy

Jonny Howson looks likely to complete a move to Norwich City in the next few days. The transfer and the circumstances surrounding it sum up the endemic problems within the club, the playing staff and the fan base.

I should state from the outset I’m a big Howson fan, and that Norwich are getting a player who should do well in the Premiership. A decent passer, with a good engine and a knack for scoring important goals (see his equaliser against Bristol Rovers in the game that got us out of League One), he never the less splits the fan base. I`ve heard numerous Leeds fans deride him, for numerous reasons. Many issues with him seem to revolve around his inability to be David Batty, the archetypal local lad midfielder, and some don’t feel a sale will damage the team that greatly. Leeds fans also seem split on coach Simon Grayson, with some believing he is a talented and astute man hampered by an increasingly frugal chairman. Others believe he is tactically inept, and with an inability to make the most of the funds he does have access to, meaning a Howson replacement, should they arrive, will be met with scepticism from the get go. The friction between fans on these issues has seemed to radiate out, increasing the pressure from an already demanding fan base on players and coaches alike.

One element the club fan base does seem united on is the aforementioned frugal Chairman, Ken Bates. A few seasons ago I defended him against complaints that he was not investing enough in the playing squad. I felt it churlish of fans of a football club still recovering from the very worst of board room extravagance to complain about a man who appeared to be attempting to inject some financial sanity.  But it has become increasingly apparent that any forward momentum the club had built in gaining promotion from League One has long since evaporated. Jermaine Beckford, Neil Killkenny, Max Gradel, Bradley Johnson, Kasper Schmeichel and Howson’s contracts have all been allowed to run down, to the point in which they have walked away for free or well below their market value. The promising youth team left back Aidy White is also in a similar position to Howson, having rejected a contract, and top scorer Ross McCormack is being linked with a move away from the club.

The fact that Johnson and Howson both joined Norwich highlights the different trajectories of both clubs.

In some ways Bates tough stance regarding negotiations with players, in the age of clubs becoming increasingly powerless, is to be commended. But it also speaks of a stubbornness and rigidity in negotiations that has led to a bleeding away of talent, often with inadequate replacements.

It also seems to be the case that many of the players are not necessarily moving for monetary reasons, but taking the chance to play at a higher level. While many players would loathe to admit that a move was simply based around money, (and I`m, admittedly, extremely naive) the likes of Beckford and Howson seemed to have a genuine rapport with the fans, but felt they had to move on to better their careers. This points to a worrying lack of belief within the squad that they can really achieve anything with Leeds United at present.

The fact that Johnson and Howson both joined Norwich highlights the different trajectories of both clubs. When both clubs were promoted from League One, Leeds seemed to be overwhelmingly favoured to be the team to push on. But it was apparent that in Paul Lambart, City had arguably the countries best young manager, and a board willing to back him when he felt a deal was right. Unfortunately for Leeds, he seems to have decided that Howson is a right fit for his young, vibrant team.

Of course, when compared to trials and tribulations at say, Darlington, Leeds fans have nothing to complain about. We still sit mid-table and a rumoured loan deal for old boy Fabian Delph is apparently on the cards. The likes of Robert Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio have the potential to be amongst the best players in the division, when fit and in form. But I can’t help thinking that seeing Howson make his Premier League bow for a club who were only recently our rivals signifies a worrying shift in ambition and direction.