Why Leeds United rejected offers and said no to Manchester United and Spurs men in transfer window

It cannot be said Leeds United had a good transfer window and it cannot yet be said they had a bad one, but it was certainly a weird one and not quite the one they wanted.
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Despite hoping to at least strengthen Marcelo Bielsa’s midfield, the Whites have ended the 31-day shopping period with nothing new, besides an 18-year-old striker in Matteo Joseph who has joined the Under-23s.

It’s generally accepted that a good January transfer window moves your squad forward or, if you’re in particularly good nick, keeps it that way.

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Leeds say they rejected, firmly, interest that would have totalled somewhere in the region of £150m for a handful of players, including key men Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha.

When it comes to Phillips the waters are a little muddy because, while sources have suggested to the YEP that West Ham bid close to £50m for the England midfielder, Leeds insist they never received a formal offer.

What this could mean is simply that Karren Brady rang her old employee Angus Kinnear and broached an idea that he swiftly and politely punted back down the A1.

Whether that, or a formal email or fax, is what constitutes an offer is semantics really and altogether irrelevant - Phillips was going no where, of that Leeds were certain. Their stance on Raphinha was equally resolute and, happily, neither player pushed for a move to the London Stadium or elsewhere. Selling important players would have made no sense and was not up for discussion.

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So Bielsa’s squad did not weaken, at least, but with a small squad, serious ongoing injury problems and 22 points from 21 games, they don’t currently qualify for ‘in particularly good nick’ status.

OPTION DECLINED - Leeds United opted not to pursue Manchester United man Donny van de Beek after discussions with Marcelo Bielsa. Pic: GettyOPTION DECLINED - Leeds United opted not to pursue Manchester United man Donny van de Beek after discussions with Marcelo Bielsa. Pic: Getty
OPTION DECLINED - Leeds United opted not to pursue Manchester United man Donny van de Beek after discussions with Marcelo Bielsa. Pic: Getty

Their attempt to strengthen was tacit recognition of this, even if Bielsa was not demanding signings and insisting any additions would have to be better than the players he has already.

Making clear from before the window even began that they wanted at least one midfielder for the first team and a couple of players for the 23s, Leeds were ready and willing to do business, so they were always going to be linked with enough players to fill two squads, let alone a tiny number of vacancies.

Some of the links, namely Boubacar Kamara and Nicolas Raskin, made sense because of their profiles but, although stories were penned that suggested business could and would be done, they were not the ones for Leeds.

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Nor was Lewis O’Brien of Huddersfield, for whom they did not return after failing to land him in the summer.

Nor were Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek or Tottenham Hotspurs’ Harry Winks, both of whom were made available to the Whites on loan for the rest of the season.

The YEP understands that, after discussions with Bielsa, the club decided not to pursue those options. Signing players he did not feel were needed or attempting to operate on anything other than the same page as Bielsa would be, one suspects, a pointless and dysfunctional exercise.

Similarly, there was no addition of a goalkeeper to vie with Kristoffer Klaesson for the ‘number two spot. They also elected not to add a second new face to Mark Jackson’s Under 23s - reports of a bid for Aberdeen teenager Calvin Ramsay were wide of the mark; he was merely one of many young prospects they have been monitoring.

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The one they actually wanted and tried to get was, and is, Brenden Aaronson, for whom they placed a pair of bids that amounted to around £15m and £20m respectively. Victor Orta laid sufficient groundwork that the club are confident they can get their man but it wasn’t to be in January - Red Bull Salzburg felt no inclination to sell, the player evidently did not agitate for a move and Leeds will have to return with a fresh approach come the summer.

Long before the window entered its final day it was clear that Leeds’ Aaronson-or-nothing stance meant they would not be adding a midfielder to the squad, leaving only one perplexing situation to resolve.

Even towards the very end of the month Leeds were preparing to try and sign a winger, but only to replace Crysencio Summerville, if he departed.

Quite why it remained such an open-ended possibility so late in the day and how it could ever be that Leeds would be in the frame for Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, a 27-year-old established Japan international, to replace a 20-year-old fourth-choice winger is difficult to comprehend. Game time would be even more of an issue for Minamino, one expects, than it might be for Summerville yet, in the end, the youngster did not depart, giving Bielsa an acceptable outcome.

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Deadline day was more a case of ‘don’t get up out of bed yet’ than ‘don’t go to bed just yet’. The window didn’t slam shut because, for Leeds, it was scarcely ajar at all. That too will be acceptable for Bielsa, who sees enough in his squad to see Leeds to safety this season.

As reasonable a position as that is to take, given the individual ability possessed by the squad, their collective understanding of his tactics and the way they finished off last season, supporters’ concerns are also reasonable.

Eight transfer windows have now gone by without the arrival of a senior midfielder, despite Leeds admitting through words or actions that they’ve wanted one in three of the last four.

As the month began, CEO Angus Kinnear laid out both the potential upsides of the club’s strategy of investing in young talent rather than expensive signings and the challenge created by Bielsa’s ‘exacting standards’. We know there is a stringent profile to which additions must fit, but can it be that there hasn’t been a single acceptable, affordable and available midfielder for Leeds to obtain?

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It is testament to Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Klich, Adam Forshaw and Bielsa himself that Leeds have achieved all that they have, without reinforcements in that area.

When Forshaw’s absence, Phillips’ recent injury issues and Dallas’ relative lack of experience in the middle are considered, what Leeds have been able to do in getting to the top table and being so competitive, is nothing short of remarkable.

And, with another window coming and going, they, along with a supporting cast including the very promising Lewis Bate, must once again shoulder a huge amount of responsibility for keeping the club where it belongs.

If they do, and they should do even if some rivals have had windows that could generate some momentum, then this window will be given very little thought, ever again and won’t have been so bad after all. Whilever that ‘if’ exists, though, Leeds can expect this window - and its lack of activity - to be at the forefront of minds.