Leeds United’s decision to let Tom Cairney leave Elland Road all the way back in 2007 may go down as one of the club’s biggest ‘what if’ stories in recent memory.
The midfielder was with the Whites for nine years but was released after being deemed “too small” at only 5 foot 1, and Cairney himself has since admitted that the rejection has played a big part in the way he would define his career.
In opening up about it back in 2014, he revealed: “To be honest it crushed me, it crushed me a lot. I was with Leeds from I was seven to 16 so it was a big part of my life. I was going there three-four times a week, missing days of schools, and obviously my mum and dad had put a lot into it too.
“So getting released at 16, it just felt like, ‘oh no, after all that effort’. But I was determined I would not stop there.”
After shining at Blackburn Rovers, Cairney made the move to Fulham, and he has been a cornerstone of the London side for a number of years now, helping them to the Premier League a couple of seasons ago and now seeing them back in the hunt for promotion again.
Winner of the EFL Player of the Year award back in 2017, it’s no surprise that he has earned rave reviews for his performances with the Cottagers, with former boss Scott Parker waxing lyrical about him following a 1-1 draw against Bristol City.
He said: “Tom Cairney took his goal superbly and was outstanding throughout the game. I thought he was head and shoulder above every other player.
“We all know his quality on the ball, but in the last three games he has showed much more than that and today it was a complete performance.”
Having recovered from the injury that kept him out for most of the first-half of the season, Cairney has resumed his responsibility as Fulham captain, and is helping lead the promotion charge.
The Cottagers currently find themselves in 1st and well-placed to secure a return to the Premier League under Marco Silva, and Cairney’s inspirational displays in the middle of the park have been a catalyst for that.
Indeed, the Cairney back in 2014 has probably delivered the most impactful line of how those back at Elland Road are probably feeling right now.
He joked: “I think the academy staff at Leeds must have got a bit of a shock when they saw me playing in the Premier League! I don’t know what happened to them but I think they may have got a telling off!”
While Cairney may not be playing Premier League football like Leeds just yet, he looks set to do so very soon.
And had the Whites just shown a bit of faith in a small and diminutive 16-year-old, he could well have been turning out for them instead of a potential rival next season.