Leeds United summer transfer window winners, an avoidable split, unwelcome recruitment and the end of Elland Road dreams

It was a happy day for Victor Orta as Leeds United hit their objectives and Daniel James flashed his grin at Elland Road, but no transfer window ever ends all smiles.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:46 am
SAD NOTE - Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski played their final games for Leeds United at the end of last season. Pic: Getty

Sorting the various bits of Whites business into categories marked winners and losers would feel far too flippant and rigid, given the wildly unpredictable nature of football and the involvement of human beings living out the consequences, yet there were deals that could only be described as good news and events much harder to spin positively.

In the case of James, it was one of those rare big-money moves from which all parties appeared to emerge smelling of roses.

Leeds got the man Marcelo Bielsa wanted, they laid to rest the ghosts of 2019 and proved there is still significant spending power behind all the lofty talk.

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James left a club where his playing possibilities were narrowing to join a club where his abilities have long been coveted and Manchester United got what they felt was a fair price.

Hearing Orta describe the negotiations brought to mind his dealings with Valencia a year ago, when the word he used to sum up the agreement over Rodrigo was simply ‘fair.’

Junior Firpo’s move was another that left few noses out of joint. His time at Barcelona had not quite worked out as hoped and a summer exit was guaranteed, giving Leeds what they classed as an upgrade in an often problematic left-back area.

Kristoffer Klaesson’s previous club Vålerenga sent him off to England with their blessings, embracing the inevitability of his future in a bigger league with the words: “It is with pride and joy that we send Kristoffer all the way to the top of the football world.”

Some of Leeds’ recruitment was not so welcome elsewhere. Celtic rejected initial bids for Leo Hjelde before becoming resigned to losing a young, highly-rated centre-half. They did keep hold of a second teenage defender, Matthew Anderson, for whom Leeds also bid. Some you win, some you lose.

Wigan have suffered a somewhat steady talent drain from a remarkably fruitful academy, Leeds and others benefitting from their good work by plucking prize assets like Sean McGurk, a year after Joe Gelhardt’s arrival at Thorp Arch, for fees much more to the liking of the buying club.

Losing Lewis Bate may not have cost Thomas Tuchel much in the way of sleep, but that move played into the feeling that Chelsea’s first-team pathway is not as clear as it could or should be.

Bate’s rejection of a contract extension at Stamford Bridge was a blow, no matter how insignificant for the Premier League title hopefuls.

Some of the deals Leeds didn’t do will have led to disappointment. With respect to Club Brugge, Noa Lang will get a big move and earn them a lot of money, it is only a question of when, yet the possibility of Premier League football floated by him this summer.

A video of him joining in with an anti-Semitic chant, for which he was punished with an obligatory visit to a former deportation camp turned Holocaust museum, may have put a question mark over his suitability, even had Bielsa not set his heart on James.

Lewis O’Brien, too, must have allowed himself to envisage top-flight involvement at a packed Elland Road when his head hit the pillow at night, as Huddersfield Town and Leeds wrangled over a price.

The disagreement over valuation killed any hope he might have held of 2021/22 Premier League football, although there was never any sense of a major push from O’Brien to make it happen and like Lang, a move is in his future.

As for departures, Leeds held onto all the players they desperately needed to keep and all but one of those they wanted to keep.

Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi left on a sad but natural note, unlike Gjanni Alioski whose split with Leeds never felt more avoidable than when he eventually penned a deal with Saudi club Al-Ahli, at a level far below the Premier League where he had proven more than capable.

The rest of the exits, although holding varying degrees of surprise, were easier to explain.

Ian Poveda still represents potential but needs more than Under-23 minutes, Alfie McCalmont and Ryan Edmondson are ploughing a furrow towards a future that probably lies outside Elland Road, but may yet make the club money and will definitely make it as players at a good level. Oliver Casey simply reached the end of his Leeds United road and got a decent move to Blackpool.

That Leif Davis was seen as surplus to requirements despite playing in the position where Leeds are lightest suggested he too would be better off developing elsewhere and Helder Costa’s time was up as soon as James’ arrival moved into the realms of possibility, the two-time Championship title winner paying for a lack of impact in the top tier.

Kiko Casilla leaving was universally beneficial.

Niall Huggins’ move was unexpected, given his proximity to the first team last season but at least it was to a big club in League One with Championship aspirations.

Robbie Gotts, however, must work his way back up from League Two, with newly- promoted, punching-above-their-weight Barrow. For a player spoken about in such glowing terms by Bielsa, there will be an element of culture shock to overcome.

He, like team-mate Jordan Stevens and National League Wrexham’s new signing Bryce Hosannah, have had the Elland Road dream taken away, but the football dream is alive and the future is unwritten.

Even if they don’t feel like deadline day winners, they may yet look back on August 31, 2021 and smile.