Leeds United ownership due credit for sensible decisions but ‘no-brainer’ can earn serious plaudits

Jesse Marsch's Leeds United go into the new season as an unknown quantity and unfettered by expectation.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 6:50 am

Of all that might burden the head coach and his players as they make their very final preparations for the Premier League opener, unhelpful hype and all-too-lofty targets will not feature in their thinking.

It did, a little, last summer when a number of senior players expressed in wary tones their belief that a second top-flight season would be harder than their first.

Luke Ayling predicted that teams would not be caught off guard against Leeds as they were in the 2020/21 campaign. Patrick Bamford pondered if that incredible top-10 finish would lead to the abandonment of realism and a far weightier expectation on the team.

This time around few can really claim to know what to expect from Marsch's side now that he's had a summer to work with the players on his style, system and philosophy, having been able to bring in players who already know the hows and whys of it all.

And, as sensible as the recruitment thus far has looked and as seamlessly the new boys have fitted in at Leeds, there's just no way of telling how many of them will take as easily to the English top flight.

Add last season's brush with relegation and Leeds can safely concentrate on the battles ahead without concerning themselves with predictions and illusions of grandeur. A forecast of top-half positioning or European qualification you will not find anywhere, this summer.

Yet, while Ayling and Bamford's alarm may have been well founded and it may even have played some part, the main factors in Leeds' near-demise last term were far more tangible.

CREDIT DUE - Leeds United were swift and efficient in the transfer market this summer and majority owner Andrea Radrizzani and the Elland Road chiefs can earn serious plaudits by finishing the window well. Pic: Getty

Squad numbers, injury numbers and the number of goals scored and conceded combined to leave Leeds in real trouble.

And of all that it felt very much like Bamford's absence for so much of the season was a problem the Whites could never adequately solve.

On Sunday, the striker completed 90 minutes for the first time since September 2021 and couldn't keep from his face a smile that has appeared frequently during pre-season.

A fit, in-form Bamford gives everyone at Leeds cause for good cheer. Last season they missed his presence, his hold-up play, his ability to link up with fellow attackers, his pressing but, most importantly, his knack for being in the right place in the area to try and finish off attacks.

Not having another experienced out-and-out natural nine - Rodrigo we now know just isn't that - proved costly and almost fatal.

That's why the signing of a striker before the September 1 deadline feels so very crucial for Marsch and Leeds, if they are to make a better fist of the club's third-successive season in the top flight.

The versatility of Charles De Ketelaere would have made him just about the perfect signing because he could have played as a nine if the need arose but would have fit in nicely as part of the three behind the lone striker in Marsch's 4-2-3-1.

And he could have played alongside Bamford in a front two.

With the Belgian now officially off the table, Leeds are taking stock this week and discussions are ongoing with majority owner Andrea Radrizzani in town.

Leeds were convinced about De Ketelaere and say they want to be equally convinced before they spend money on another.

Getting the right one before September 1 is definitely preferable to getting the wrong one before the Wolves game, but get one they must. It’s a no-brainer. It's simply not an option, whether or not Joe Gelhardt is going to get more minutes, or even if Rodrigo showed a flash of the player he could be, albeit against Serie B opposition, last weekend.

We don't yet know if the additions of Luis Sinisterra and Brenden Aaronson are going to give Marsch all of the threat and creativity that Raphinha brought to the table, even in a struggling team last season, but they, Jack Harrison, Gelhardt, Daniel James, Crysencio Summerville, Rodrigo, Sam Greenwood and, if he stays, Mateusz Klich should, between them, have enough to create enough.

Aaronson's trifecta of assists on Sunday hinted at him being a lot more than just a bundle of energy, nuisance and industry.

If money was no object then a magic man, at 10, would have been nice as well this summer - think the never-really-replaced Pablo Hernandez - but it's a nine that looks more like the missing piece in this puzzle.

None of this is to say that getting a left-back has become in any way optional; Leeds should absolutely crack on in that department too and an experienced keeper would ice the cherry.

Radrizzani and Leeds deserve credit for jumping out in front of others with their rapid-fire early-window recruitment and getting players whose arrivals, before a ball is kicked in anger, seem to make sense. Transfers can be drawn out, complex, shape-shifting beasts and yet Leeds went about their business with a minimum of fuss.

Credit is also due for the contractual business that will tie down Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville for years to come. That was important, this summer.

Any window is only as good as its conclusion, though. It has not gone unnoticed that Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha’s sales have more or less financed the recruitment completed thus far. That’s no slight, because the club were true to their word that the cash would be reinvested in the squad. But it will require more investment from Radrizzani and co to turn a solid window into a really good one.

That's when this regime can earn serious plaudits.

That's when a serious portion of fans' worries can be lifted.