Fabian Delph has spoken of his regret at playing only one full season for Leeds United and revealed how he thought his sale in 2009 would secure the repurchase of the club’s training ground.
The midfielder said he expected his departure to Aston Villa after just one year in United’s first team to provide the funds needed for Leeds to regain ownership of Thorp Arch with a deadline for buying the complex set to pass three months after his transfer.
Leeds, controlled at the time by chairman Ken Bates, held a buy-back clause having sold their training ground to Manchester businessman Jacob Adler during a financial crisis in 2004.
United required £6m to activate the clause before it expired in October 2009, a short time after Delph - their star academy product - was sold to Villa for around the same sum. The club, however, failed to meet the deadline and were refused a loan by Leeds City Council after Bates declined to reveal the identity of the individuals behind United’s ultimate owner, Forward Sports Fund.
The club continue to lease Thorp Arch and have paid in excess of £6m in annual rent since the buy-back clause elapsed. Current owner Andrea Radrizzani is pursuing a plan to leave Thorp Arch - the brainchild of ex-Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson - and build a new training ground in Holbeck, a short distance from Elland Road.
Delph was back at Leeds on Thursday night, featuring in England’s World Cup warm-up win over Costa Rica.
The Bradford-born 28-year-old returned to Elland Road briefly on loan from Villa in 2012 but made just 56 appearances for the club.
“I look back on them fondly,” he said. “I only played a season here and that was one of my regrets. I wish I’d played longer here but the circumstances at the time, the club needed to get some money.
“The plan was for me to go and then they buy back the training ground. I don’t think that happened but that’s what was in my mind and that’s what the case was at the time.
“My time here was fantastic. I came here at 10, 11 years old and the club gave me the opportunity to play. If it wasn’t for Leeds United I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Delph’s impact at Villa was hampered by injury but Manchester City paid £8m to sign him in 2015 and he was an integral part of the team who won the Premier League title under Pep Guardiola this season, reinventing himself as a left-back.
“I still follow (Leeds’) results and I still keep in touch with people I grew up with,” he said.
“Lucy Ward (United’s former education and welfare officer) was fantastic for me, she helped shape my future. There were a lot of people and I’d be here all night if I gave them all a mention but I owe a lot to Leeds United.
“I always be grateful and thankful and hopefully get back here one day.”