Southend United player of the year Ryan Leonard has submitted a transfer request and rejected an offer of a new contract at Roots Hall, Essex Echo reporter Chris Phillips has confirmed. The Essex Echo believe that both Sheffield United and Millwall are interested in the central midfielder.
Phillips believes that Sheffield United have already had a bid worth £500,000 rejected this week, but it seems unlikely that it has been enough to deter Chris Wilder in his pursuit of the former Plymouth Argyle youth product. Southend club chairman Ron Martin is determined not to allow him to leave, according to boss Phil Brown, but it seems it is only a matter of time until an agreement is reached.
Leonard has spent six years in south Essex since joining on a free transfer, and has come on leaps and bounds as he has developed from a weak right-back to a dominant central midfielder. First pushed into the middle of the park under Paul Sturrock, Phil Brown has brought his game on and deployed Leonard in a holding midfield role where he has had a huge influence over games.
There has been a change in style in Leonard’s game across the years, despite winning the club’s player of the year award on a record equaling three occasions. In 2013/14, Leonard focused his game around trademark driving runs forward from deep, looking to move his team forward or pounce on loose balls in and around the box. Along with that came a number of spectacular goals and an all round midfielder.
In more recent years, Leonard has seen his role become more defensive minded. Operating alongside Anthony Wordsworth, Leonard has protected his defence and allowed his midfield counterpart the freedom to roam forwards. Whilst the driving runs may be reduced, Leonard has shown himself to be one of the best in the Football League at breaking up attacks.
A real athlete, with high fitness levels and a great reading of the game, Leonard cuts attacks out and immediately looks to get his side forward. He is tactically astute and intelligent both on and off the ball, happily filling in for team-mates such as marauding right-back Jason Demetriou.
There is little doubt that Leonard can take his skills and apply them in the Championship. Despite having played just two seasons at League One level, the 25-year-old has already made himself one of the best players in the division. If he can replicate that kind of improvement in the second tier, it could only be a matter of time until he’s moving on to the Premier League.
It may not be easy for either Sheffield United or Millwall to agree a fee with Southend, with a bidding war not likely to help matters. However, Leonard does have just one year left on his current contract and has clearly had his head turned by interest from the newly promoted duo. Once a deal has been agreed, which seems highly likely, the victor will be getting a very reliable, very consistent and very effective player who will boss the midfield even at Championship level.
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