HE turned his back on a day at Wembley to sign for Leeds, but Connor Wickham says he knew he’d made the right call as soon as he walked through the door.
Wickham, 20, scored eight goals in 12 games on loan at Sheffield Wednesday before being recalled by parent club Sunderland in January.
And having struggled for starts since his £8m move from Ipswich in 2011, it seemed the England U21 striker would finally get his chance at the Stadium of Light – including a role in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final against Manchester City.
But after being told by Sunderland boss Gus Poyet that he was not even guaranteed a regular place on the bench, Wickham demanded another loan spell, with Leeds beating off competition from six different clubs to sign him.
“I want to play football and if I’m not going to play – regardless of whether it’s at Wembley or not – I don’t want to hang around,” said Wickham.
“I’ve been out of action for maybe five weeks, just through not being selected. And after playing so regularly at Wednesday I’ve been itching to get back on the pitch.
“So when the manager at Sunderland said it would be difficult for me to play regularly, that was my mind made up – I said to my agent: ‘Get me to Leeds’.
“As soon as Brian McDermott, the gaffer here, called me up, it was the only place I wanted to go. And having trained for the last couple of days, I know it is the right decision.
“The quality in the dressing room is immense. The training ground is massive. The stadium is massive. The fanbase is massive. It’s a Premier League club.
“Just to join a club like this is an honour and you can tell the moment you walk in the building that everyone feels the same.”
Wickham may have some making up to do with the Elland Road fans after scoring in Wednesday’s 6-0 demolition of Leeds back in January.
“Hopefully the fans will forgive me for that,” he adds. “But I’m sure they understand that I was at Wednesday then and I had to do my job.
“Now I’ll be giving that same kind of dedication here – hopefully with the same sort of results.”
No pressure then – especially as he has the No 9 shirt made famous by the likes of John Charles, Mick Jones and Lee Chapman.
“Yeah, there’s some big shoes to fill,” he says. “But I’m confident I can do it, especially supported by the lads here. Just looking round this past couple of days, you can tell there’s quality in there, potential and ability. We’re seven points off the play-offs so hopefully we can make a push.”
And there’s one player Wickham is looking forward to working with – the Championship’s 22-goal top scorer Ross McCormack.
“I’ve played in the Championship plenty and Ross has been a prolific goal scorer at this level for a number of years,” he said.
“Even training with him , we seem to have an understanding and we’ve been linking up well. It should be a good partnership. I’m big and strong, he’s a lot smaller. But he’s good on the ball, he’s got a great touch, a good eye for a pass. Hopefully we can feed off each other and share the goals.”
And Wickham remains hopeful that he will get another crack at the Premier League with Sunderland.
“I just need to play football and what happens will happen,” said the striker, whose Black Cats record stands at four goals in 42 games.
“If I can score a few goals and we can push into the play-offs, it will hopefully do me as much good as the club and the lads at Leeds.”