Ex-Leeds United, Leicester City and Bournemouth star drops into second-tier months after international glory

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
It’s been 13 years since the tricky winger left Leeds United.

Former Leeds United winger Max Gradel is still going strong at 36-years-old and signed for Turkish second-tier side Sakaryspor over the weekend.

Sakaryspor confirmed the move via their social media channels on Sunday evening, announcing that Gradel had become a ‘green and black’. It will be the winger’s eighth permanent home over a career spanning 18 years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Gradel spent last season in the Turkish top-flight with Gaziantep, but scored just once in 21 league appearances as his side finished 11th in the 20-team league. The Ivorian’s decision to drop down a league is hoped to provide more regular football.

Sakaryspor will be fighting for promotion once again after mirroring the pain suffered by Leeds, having finished third last season before losing 3-1 to Bodrum in the promotion play-offs. They will hope an addition of star quality might make the difference going into the 2024/25 campaign, even if Gradel turns 37 in November.

Gradel is showing no sign of hanging up his boots and only a few months ago helped his country to international glory as the Ivory Coast won the Africa Cup of Nations in February. The experienced winger rarely featured in the group stages but after original head coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked mid-tournament, new manager Emerse Fae took to the former Leeds man who played 70 minutes in the 2-1 final win over Nigeria before lifting the trophy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was a second AFCON triumph for Gradel, who was also part of the squad that won the continental tournament in 2015. Ex-Leeds manager Simon Grayson took the time to congratulate his former player on social media shortly after, with heart-warming pictures soon surfacing of the post-match celebrations.

It’s been 15 years since Gradel arrived at Leeds as an exciting young winger on loan from Leicester City in 2009, and the Ivorian played his part in pulling Grayson’s side out of League One. Although he almost ruined the final-day meeting with Bristol Rovers after being sent off, with security and Jermaine Beckford combining to drag him off the pitch before the latter eventually won it and put Leeds back in the Championship.

Gradel was a Leeds player by that point, having made his loan move permanent that January, and the Ivorian spent one electric season in the Championship before joining French club Saint-Étienne in August 2011. In total, Gradel registered 25 goals and 13 assists in 84 appearances for Leeds but is widely regarded by fans as a special and rare bright spark during what was a dark time in West Yorkshire.

He was named Leeds Player of the Year just months before joining Saint-Étienne, having also been named player of the year by the YEP. Speaking to the Athletic about those awards, he said in 2020: “Those trophies matter to me. I won’t ever lose them. In that season, I wanted people to see what I could do. I wanted to show that I was better than someone who gets sent off in a promotion game. It was an amazing year. I was totally in love with football and the club. Totally in love with everything.”