Following Leeds United’s disappointing finish to the Sky Bet Championship season, chief football writer Phil Hay looks at the most pressing items on the agenda for the club’s co-owner Andrea Radrizzani.
“We will have time for talks and decisions in June,” wrote Andrea Radrizzani on Twitter last month but the sight of Leeds United’s season dropping off a cliff brought forward many of the items on his agenda.
The club’s co-owner, like others around him at Elland Road, was quietly hopeful that Leeds would delay precise planning for next season by reaching the Championship play-off final but Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City was confirmation of another year below the Premier League.
Leeds have one game left to play, away at Wigan Athletic on Sunday, but Garry Monk’s squad can finish no higher than seventh, Wigan are already relegated and the last gasps of the term are making way for more crucial matters. Radrizzani, who attended the meeting with Norwich and spoke at Leeds’ annual award ceremony on Saturday evening, has much on his plate:
1) The ownership structure at Elland Road
Radrizzani’s investment deal with Massimo Cellino in January, arranging a 50-50 split of shares between them and an even number of representatives on United’s board of directors, was designed to be a short-term arrangement.
There is agreement on both sides that co-ownership cannot work indefinitely and Radrizzani’s contract gave him the option to purchase all remaining equity from Cellino at the end of this season and take full control of the club.
Discussions about that trade are already advanced, with a view to giving Radrizzani increased authority and a majority stake as quickly as possible. The appointment of Ivan Bravo as a director last week was telling insofar as it brought a key associate and advisor of Radrizzani’s to the table, ahead of a summer when key decisions are needed.
Cellino, whose arbitration appeal against his 18-month Football Association ban is still to be resolved, has been an irregular presence at Elland Road since Christmas and is not expected to cling on unnecessarily but this is one area of negotiations which nobody at United wants to linger.
2) Garry Monk’s contract
The irony of the doubt over Monk’s future as head coach is that Leeds hold an option to extend his contract to their end of the 2017-18 season. The problem for the club is that doing so would look like a meagre reward or statement of intent after a season which exceeded both Leeds’ assumed potential and their mid-table budget.
United were reported on Sunday to be considering replacing Monk with a foreign head coach but sources at Elland Road say Radrizzani is still minded to review his deal.
While Leeds are open to offering him more security than a 12-month extension, Monk is already well-paid by Championship standards and unlikely to be offered a substantial pay rise. From Monk’s point of view, Leeds will have to meet his expectations with regards to funding for the summer transfer window and the retention of certain existing players.
The current wage bill on the playing side lies somewhere between £12m and £13m – less than 50 per cent of the turnover recorded in the club’s latest set of accounts – and Monk would benefit from more financial clout.
His stock as a coach has rarely been higher and he has public support on his side. As yet the two sides have not spoken about his position but releasing Monk would be a risky way for Radrizzani to begin the decision-making process – and a move he would be strictly judged on.
3) United’s loanees
If Monk stays, signing Kyle Bartley on a permanent basis from Swansea City will be a priority. Bartley has one year left on his Swansea contract – an extension he agreed when he left to join Leeds on loan last July – but like Monk, his value is higher now than it was 12 months ago.
Swansea might have use of him if they are relegated to the Championship. Bartley might also prefer a crack at the Premier League and his comments after Saturday’s draw with Norwich made it clear that his interest in returning to Elland Road will be diminished if United don’t retain Monk as head coach.
Of the other five loanees, Pontus Jansson has already finalised a permanent move from Torino and should sign a three-year contract in July. Matt Grimes and Mo Barrow have made no discernible impact and will return to Swansea.
Hadi Sacko would come at a fairly low cost from Sporting Lisbon, despite the presumptuous 60 million Euro buy-out clause which resides in his Lisbon deal, but flaws in his game have been evident this season and Monk used him sporadically in the second half of the term.
Alfonso Pedraza, meanwhile, is at the other end of the spectrum – a player who Leeds were committed to signing from Villarreal for close to £10m had they been promoted to the Premier League. At that sort of price, the Spaniard will not be back for a second year.
4) Players out of contract
Seventh place appears to spell the end of Charlie Taylor’s career with Leeds. His contract expires after Sunday’s game at Wigan. West Bromwich Albion have been linked with him for months and there are suggestions that Liverpool fancy Taylor as a low-cost left-back with potential. In January Leeds agreed with Taylor that they would reassess his situation at the end of the season but he submitted a transfer request last summer and the club were resigned to losing him if promotion slipped away. A compensation fee on account of his age will offer some consolation.
Playmaker Pablo Hernandez is also out of contract in the weeks ahead and Leeds have not yet activated a one-year option. A decision on Monk’s future might also dictate Hernandez’s. Fringe goalkeeper Ross Turnbull is set to leave at the end of his two-year deal while Jordan Botaka, who is tied down only until this summer, has never found favour since arriving from Holland in 2015.
The winger is 23 and Leeds would be due compensation for him if they offered to renew his deal on the same terms but a mixed season on loan at Charlton is hardly encouraging the club to do so.
Giuseppe Bellusci, meanwhile, has 12 months to run on his contract but Empoli are likely to convert his loan into a full-time move.
5) Other business
At some stage this week Leeds plan to organise refunds on season tickets, honouring a pledge to pay back 25 per cent to supporters who bought before the end of May last year. The deadline for eligible fans to apply was originally set as April 30 – this Sunday gone – but United delayed the distribution of application forms while Monk’s squad were in the top six and will confirm a new cut-off date shortly. The cost of refunds is likely to exceed £1m.
The unheralded losers of Leeds’ final-month collapse, meanwhile, are the unsecured creditors of the insolvency process which United went through in 2007.
Back then, those creditors received around 11p in the pound from a buy-back deal secured by Ken Bates but his ‘takeover’ included a 10-year clause promising another £5m to them if the club were promoted to the Premier League before the end of the 2016-17 season – in effect, a way of ensuring that United would be held to account if they found themselves rolling around in Premier League riches a short time after their insolvency.
This campaign was the last-chance saloon for those creditors and they will not see another penny.