Leeds United's interest in midfielder with 'unlimited energy' consistent with 2021 summer transfer window approach
Leeds United’s summer transfer window, to date, has been a much more understated affair than the 2020 version.
And, as the August 31 deadline begins to creep into view, it is difficult to see anything like the kind of big-spending, high-profile business that made such a splash in the market ahead of the Whites’ Premier League return.
That £100m-plus splurge was never going to be repeated this summer. It was a calculated risk that added the first-team quality Elland Road chiefs felt Marcelo Bielsa’s squad needed to compete adequately in the Premier League in the first season back and beyond, and a number of fresh faces for the future.
The spending left them ‘financially exposed’ in the words of owner Andrea Radrizzani, but the reward was an impressive top-10 finish in the top flight.
Even if that outcome was largely down to the head coach and players he had worked with for two years, the new boys played their part. Robin Koch shone early on, Diego Llorente sparkled later on, Rodrigo’s light flickered and Raphinha lit up the Premier League from start to finish.
Only the latter made more than 15 starts, however, owing to injuries so, with a year of bedding-in under their belts, all four are expected to contribute even more in their second season and that’s another reason why Leeds were going to be more measured in their recruitment this time round.
Measured and sensible are not as sexy as they should be in the Covid-impacted financial climate. They’re a difficult sell, especially when a handful of others in the Premier League are throwing around, or attempting to throw around, eye-watering sums.
And when your opening salvo of the window includes a Barcelona left-back, even at perhaps the most opportune time to sign a player from Camp Nou, it’s even harder to keep expectations in check and feet on the ground.
It has long been known that a central midfielder and a winger have formed part of the wish list and, when it comes to the former in particular, some big names have floated on the breeze without ever passing the lips of Elland Road sources. Names that might give rise to excitement but could never be said to represent sensible signings or ones that Bielsa would realistically want, have lingered.
It cannot be said that Lewis O’Brien, a 22-year-old Huddersfield Town midfielder, is in that category.
He’s a player Leeds actually like, one they’ve expressed genuine interest in and, all things considered, one for whom a deal should be achievable in every sense for a Premier League club like Leeds, even if the initial discussions between the two clubs failed to yield any kind of progression.
While nothing is imminent or even on-going – all was quiet as the week began – The Yorkshire Evening Post understands the two parties were not a million miles apart in their valuation.
O’Brien might not set hearts aflutter in the way higher-profile names would, but he would be a sensible signing. The right boxes, by now so familiar to Leeds fans, appear to be ticked by the man Bielsa watched at Hillsborough in Huddersfield’s EFL Cup clash with Sheffield Wednesday.
A box-to-box midfielder with energy to burn, a good left foot and versatility, O’Brien appears about as Bielsa-ready as any young Championship player might.
“He closes down until the 95th, 96th minute, still running to the corners, stopping defenders, he’s got unlimited energy,” Matt Glennon told The YEP.
The former Huddersfield keeper and BBC Leeds summariser can see why Leeds might like the youngster.
“Lewis O’Brien wants to put the hard yards in and wants to be at the very top of where he can get to,” said Glennon. “He’s one of those lads who works ridiculously hard which, for me, is your minimum in any league, but he’s got that quality, the drop of a shoulder, that strength to keep people off him, a low centre of gravity to glide past people, arm aloft when they try to knock him off the ball.
“He doesn’t spend time on the floor, he bounces straight back up again, he’s an honest footballer. He has pace and he can finish as well, with that nice left foot. He’s come on a lot in the last three years.”
Three years ago he was a deadline-day loan signing for Bradford City and it’s safe to say an underwhelming one, until he played that is.
“He was the last signing on transfer deadline day,” said Simon Parker, chief sports writer at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus.
“The youth team coach had been promoted to manager, it was pretty fraught and, when the last signing of the window was a teenage lad from Huddersfield who hadn’t played a senior game, you can imagine the reaction to that.
“But you could see he had something about him and he became very popular very quickly with supporters.
“He left nothing on the pitch.”
His whole-hearted displays in a badly struggling team that suffered relegation said much about his character.
“He was thrown in the deepest of deep ends, he had no previous senior experience and suddenly he was in this team that was hustled together, with no cohesion about it and it was obvious they were going to struggle all season,” Parker told The YEP.
“It was probably the most difficult situation a young player could be thrown into and he could have hidden away.
“But he just got on with it and he shone because of that. You saw a young lad clearly destined to do a lot better than those around him because he was getting stuck in, in a team floating around the relegation zone from start to finish.”
Although he was unable to showcase much attacking prowess, his energy levels and reliability made him stand out.
“He covered a lot of ground, really great energy levels,” said Parker.
“He wasn’t particularly attack-minded but that was his first season and I imagine he’s developed and become a lot more rounded.
“He liked a tackle and the fans liked him because he knuckled down in a season where a lot of those around him froze and he was far and away the best player that season and hardly missed a game.
“He doesn’t appear to be fazed by anything so I’m not surprised he’s doing as well as he is.”
If Leeds and Huddersfield do return to the table and thrash out a deal as the window nears its end, it won’t be the most glamorous signing of the summer and O’Brien is not be the box-ready Premier League starter or international some were hoping for. He would not walk into Bielsa's team, no one ever does. He would almost certainly only provide cover in an area of the pitch where Leeds do need it, at first.
But a lot about this one would make sense. It would be a sensible move. Sometimes sensible is sexy.