Chris Wood wants to set the record straight. Over six weeks have passed since he left Leeds United for Burnley, for a fee that could rise to £18m. And he has started well for Sean Dyche’s side, with three goals already. But there is something he wants to make very clear.
Because since Wood left Elland Road, he has been accused of refusing to play in Leeds’ Championship game away at Sunderland, the day after his move to Turf Moor was agreed, but two days before it was completed. It is an accusation that would sting any professional player. In reality, Burnley’s successful bid, lodged 24 hours before the game, stipulated that Wood could not face Sunderland. So the matter was taken out of Wood’s hands.
Wood scored 30 goals for Leeds last season and told The Independent in an interview this week that he still wishes the club all the best, and has the utmost respect for chairman Andrea Radrizzani. But the 25-year-old wanted to be clear that he would never have ducked out of the match at the Stadium of Light.
“Nobody understands that the bid Burnley put in was subject to me not playing against Sunderland,” Wood says. “And everybody thinks that I refused to play. But it was out of my hands. The bid went in at 3pm on the Friday and got accepted at 5pm on the Friday. It was completely out of my hands whether I played or not. Burnley took that out of the equation, because they didn’t want the worst to happen.”
Wood, at the time, wrote on Twitter that he “did not feel it [was] right” to play in that match because of his imminent move to Burnley. Not because he did not want to, but because he could not. Leeds accepted Burnley’s bid on the Friday afternoon, verbally and then in writing, and then told Wood’s agent that he would not be able to play against Sunderland. But Wood stayed with the team’s hotel so as not to distract from preparations.
“They said they’d like me to stay there so it doesn’t upset the team, they could focus on the Sunderland game, without people from the outside world thinking why they had got rid of a player the day before the game,” Wood recalls. “They just wanted everybody to focus on the game. That is why they wouldn’t let me leave the hotel until the game kicked off, so there was no distraction.” Only when the game did finish on the Saturday afternoon could Wood travel to Manchester, where he had his medical on the Sunday and formally completed his move on the Monday.
What frustrates Wood is that he has been made to look as if he agitated for the move when he did no such thing. He never put in a transfer request but when, earlier in the summer, Leeds spoke to him about his future, he said he would like the chance to play in the Premier League if a top flight club came in for him.
“Throughout this whole process Andrea was fantastic, he always said we can come up with a deal if that is what you would like to do, and it is the best opportunity for you,” he said. “If you want to make that move to the Premier League, we will come to sort of arrangement.”
There were never anything amounting to serious contract talks between Wood and Leeds. “We never actually sat down and talked about figures or anything like that,” he says. “It was never on my agenda, to sign a new contract. At the time I was still holding out hope for a Premier League club. A new deal could have been discussed when the transfer window closed.”
So Wood was disappointed when word was put out that he had turned down a lucrative contract just as he was on his way to Burnley. It made him look like the villain. “They knew the bid was going in, and the bid was going to be accepted that Friday,” Wood said. “They played the game to make sure they don’t look bad in front of the fans. As much as I wanted it to be amicable, and they did, I understand they cannot be seen to be getting rid of their top scorer.”
On a personal level between Wood and Radrizzani, though, there is still warmth, and he wishes his former club all the best. “He thanked me for my services, and I hope he does well, he’s a good man” Wood said. “He just needed his team to look good and not be the villain in this case.”