Money at Leeds United exists when Massimo Cellino chooses to spend it. That sounds elementary, like an owner’s prerogative, but the budget at Elland Road is a fluid structure.
It all comes down to opportunities and circumstance.
Cellino did not offer £3million for Fernando Forestieri because there is cash sloshing around at Elland Road, waiting to be burned. He saw Forestieri as a sound investment so he found the money Watford asked for and agreed to pay it.
The reluctance of Forestieri to jump on the transfer will be goading Cellino to maddening heights but the fact remains that United are prepared to fund his fee.
This is how the summer has gone: a close season in which Leeds have looked at signing specific players rather than spending a specific amount of cash. There are natural limits and players who Cellino cannot get into – Nottingham Forest’s Michail Antonio for example – but people around the Italian say he is more resistant to high wages than big fees.
Fees he will pay because players vary in prices and clubs rarely trade on the cheap. Contracts can be incentivised or kept to a certain limit, a view which explains why negotiations with Sam Byram have not achieved much. The current wage bill at Elland Road is said to be around £13m; “not where most of our competitors are,” Rosler said on Saturday. It was breaking £20m when Cellino bought control of the club from Gulf Finance House 17 months ago.
The signing of Chris Wood came about in July after Leeds agreed to pay well in excess of what Wolverhampton Wanderers were offering for him. Leicester City accepted both bids but knew which offer they wanted to come good. At the back end of July, no-one at Elland Road was talking about anything other than the importance of shifting Steve Morison – and to a lesser extent Nicky Ajose – off the wage bill. Leeds sounded like a club who were almost spent up. Then the door opened to Stuart Dallas and Cellino served up £1.3m for that transfer. The targets are the influential factor here, rather than the finance involved.
The same could be said of other options, like Anthony Limbombe and Floyd Ayite. Younger than Forestieri and playing abroad, both have been interesting Leeds all summer but both are seen as riskier signings. Cellino talked valuations with Bastia, Ayite’s French club, but did not like their asking price. He offered around £1.5m for Limbombe, NEC Nijmegen’s 21-year-old Belgian, but received a cool response and has not bid again. It might be that the approach of the transfer deadline tempts him to try once more but while others at Elland Road were in contact with NEC last week, Cellino was thinking solely about Forestieri. That was the deal he wanted to happen.
Leeds are evidently under a degree of pressure to make something happen in the final few days of the window. Their head coach for one would like a slightly bigger squad; attacking players as a priority but potentially another centre-back too. Depth is in slightly short supply. Rosler talked of Charlie Taylor operating like “a machine” on Saturday and the 21-year-old’s engine is something else but it could be argued that Taylor has played every minute of this season only because Rosler has no means of resting him. Gaetano Berardi is the closest thing to a spare left-back and Berardi is needed across the other side of United’s defence.
The way the club speak, the way they are operating, suggests that most of this has registered with them. Forestieri would be another big outlay and a versatile addition to resources up front which cover the surface as much as anything. United stand to benefit from that deal but if Forestieri has doubts, he is better off expressing them now than waiting until the money has been paid. Otherwise he and Leeds will be fated for the same level of satisfaction enjoyed by Steve Morison.
Forestieri’s reluctance is not in itself a reason to career into signing Limbombe, Ayite or anyone else. Given the way Cellino has operated this summer, it’s likely that the Forestieri-Limbombe consideration was not a case of either or. If the club wanted both they would have knuckled down and agreed a fee for both last week. Their interest in Limbombe seems slightly more cautious. Leeds would pay for him but only to a point.
Likewise, a failed £3m bid for Forestieri should not automatically lead to an investment of £3m elsewhere, even though Leeds need a breakthrough or two before the window closes. Rosler spoke after Saturday’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday about he and Cellino trying to sign “the right players at the right age at the right price.” Where the money is coming from only Cellino and a few others know. Millions of pounds were injected into the club during the close-season, all of it in exchange for equity. Whatever the source, the identity of players has mattered more than the price this summer. That’s recruitment as it should be.