Leeds United's bittersweet £100m possibility and key currency in delicate summer transfer window
Welcome to the summer of trust at Leeds United.
Majority owner Andrea Radrizzani has to believe his partners, the 49ers, will not only share his vision but get behind it in a proactive manner until such a time that they’re ready to pull the trigger on their buyout plans. They have to trust that Radrizzani can steer the ship back on track following last season’s diversion through stormy waters, to protect their investment if nothing else.
The board, as a collective, will place a huge amount of faith in Victor Orta to get the transfer business just right, with a rebuild that will be made ever-more complex should Champions League clubs prise Leeds’ prize assets Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips from Elland Road. Orta, in turn, is trusting that the ownership will reinvest the funds from any potential sale in order to let him adequately replace what has been lost. He’s trusting his own judgement, his scouts, the data in front of him, agents and the word of players themselves as he goes about making decisions and crafting deals.
Jesse Marsch is trusting everyone ‘upstairs’ to present him with the necessary tools to execute his footballing philosophy and, at the very least, keep the club in the Premier League next season. He’s trusting the players to come back for pre-season in good enough shape to hit the ground running and then he’s looking for the very best of their effort as they ready themselves for a first Premier League season together.
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The players, both new faces and old favourites, are trusting that Marsch will prepare them properly in pre-season and use them in such a way that they operate at their highest levels. They’re trusting that, if the very best of their group are sold, the replacements will be just as good.
Then there’s the fans, for whom any measure of trust is still quite the ask. As a fanbase, they were wrenched in two by the sacking of Marcelo Bielsa and then gradually tortured by a season that came within a whisker of disaster. The very people in whose hands they have no option but to place their hopes, dreams and trusts are those they chanted against in those fraught latter stages of the season.
Such was the intensity of the criticism received by Leeds’ band of decision makers that in the emotionally draining series of weeks they could be forgiven for wanting to move on quickly and completely from last season. There was no player-of-the-season do, likely because there was no appetite for it, and there has been no public address of the 2021/22 struggles, barring Radrizzani’s 186-word statement released not long after survival was secured on the final day. No-one has moved on from their role though and, despite low rumblings and rumours last season, Elland Road sources have never given any sense that things would change in the senior hierarchy.
Last season and the backlash it brought definitely hurt individuals but not so much that they wanted out or wanted others out. Trust, at that level of the club, evidently remains intact. The stakes are always so high, though, when you’re a Premier League club and with so much in flux, there’s a serious delicacy to the Leeds United operation. They find themselves unable to say with any real certainty what the rest of the summer and their transfer business will look like, because so much could be dictated by events surrounding Phillips and Raphinha.
No-one ever wants to wave goodbye to a star player or fan favourite but money makes the world go round and, for a club to have in their possession very good footballers, a pair who could easily generate a combined £100m, it took trust in the first place.
Orta convinced Phillips to stay when Aston Villa came knocking in 2019 and, for Phillips to say no to Premier League money at that juncture, he had to believe that he could get there with Leeds. He did, he proved himself good enough for the level and now he’s worth far more to Leeds both on the pitch and in monetary value.
When Orta plucked Raphinha from Rennes, for a snip, it took foresight others in the Premier League lacked and the Brazilian’s trust that top-flight football would make his Brazil dream come true. It did, he proved himself good enough for the level and now he’s worth £60m, at a conservative estimate.
The relationship between Orta and Bielsa also helped land Leeds in this bitter-sweet scenario for when entrusted to the head coach, both players and their price tags flourished. Phillips, in particular, was transformed by the head coach, as were so many others and the club’s fortunes in general. Of course, when the club’s ownership stopped trusting that Bielsa could get them out of trouble, they sacked him and placed their faith in another, because that’s also how football works, like it or not. That decision damaged the trust many supporters had in Radrizzani & Co and this summer could go some way towards a repair job.
But who, or what, can Leeds fans put their trust in, right now? For one, they can trust that Phillips won’t go to Manchester United. You can be almost certain that he will, as Bielsa predicted, ensure any departure is the one that best protects his relationship with the club and its supporters. He counts himself and countless friends and family members among them. A Manchester City move has always felt like the one that would go the furthest to placating those most hurt and the one that could generate the most fitting financial recompense.
They can’t trust that Raphinha won’t go - the narrative around his exits from Sporting and Rennes was that he didn’t want to but the clubs decided to sell him. He might never want to go, but go he does and go he will should Barcelona emerge from the back of the sofa with the required millions. They can probably trust that Orta will get a good price, though. It’s been a while since the Spaniard sold someone but the fee he got for Jack Clarke suggests he can drive a canny bargain. He turned a profit on Yosuke Ideguchi without seeing him kick a ball in anger for Leeds, somehow.
Beyond that, it’s largely going to be a faith exercise. Trust is earned, it was before and this Leeds regime can recoup a lot of what they lost by coming out of this transfer window in a stronger position than when they went into it.