Officials acting on behalf of the Championship club submitted a fresh bid for the 25-year-old earlier this month after seeing three offers rejected by Phil Brown’s side during the close season.
Although Chris Wilder remains determined to sign Leonard, he would prefer the situation to be resolved before the window opens on January 1 so the player can become assimilated into United’s squad before their games against Aston Villa, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday later that month.
“I want players in early January,” Wilder said. “I don’t want it dragging on. We’ve got some big fixtures in January and we want to move on into the month. We want to try and get them done early.”
Leonard, who started his career with Plymouth Argyle, signalled his desire to join Wilder’s side by refusing to sign the new contract Southend placed on the table when news of United’s interest first broke six months ago. Wilder made another approach for his services after being handed his latest recruitment budget by Bramall Lane’s board of directors. United’s refusal to withdraw the offer represents an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on Southend, who face losing Leonard for nothing at the end of the campaign.
In 2010, their owner Ron Martin remortgaged his home to prevent the League One club being forced into administration over a £338,000 tax debt. Not only does that signal the depth of his commitment, it also underlines why the former Olympian is determined to secure the best possible outcome; meaning United are unlikely to persuade Southend to do business unless they receive the majority of the money up front rather than in staged payments. It remains unclear exactly what type of package has been proposed.
“I’m not caught up in all the Premier League stuff,” Wilder said. “If we feel they are right, then we’ll try and get them.
“Of course, if players have played in the Championship or the Premier League, they are usually good players. But that’s the most important thing, not where they are coming from; are they good players?”
Having failed to negotiate Leonard’s release before the start of the present campaign, United’s results since being hit by injuries, illness and John Fleck’s suspension underline why they can not afford a repeat next month. Wilder, whose side have slipped from first to sixth in the Championship table after losing key players including Paul Coutts and Keiron Freeman, also embarked upon an unsuccessful pursuit of Blackburn Rovers defender Darragh Lenihan before the August 31st deadline. Had both Leonard and the former Republic of Ireland under-21 international been secured, it would almost certainly have prevented coaching staff from being forced to make the tactical changes which have contributed to their five match winless run.
“It’s no secret we’ve made a bid for Ryan,” Wilder, whose side were beaten by Preston North End last weekend, said. “That’s left with our club, their negotiators and them. They obviously told people down there so it came out and I’ve got no problem with that.”