Very few players, only two to be precise, have been sold by Leeds United for a higher price than Ronaldo Vieira in their sub-Premier League era. The club’s willingness to cash in on his reputation in August was readily matched by Sampdoria’s willingness to pay them upwards of £7m.
Marcelo Bielsa advised Leeds’ owner, Andrea Radrizzani, that Vieira’s value would only appreciate but the deal was done and the midfielder has seen two quick months on Italian soil fly by. It is apparent after a short time abroad that the overnight ripple he caused at Elland Road will not be repeated so easily in Serie A.
Vieira is close enough to the first team to touch it - a mainstay on the bench and comfortably on the radar of head coach Marco Giampaolo - but his time on the pitch has totalled 25 minutes: a short cameo at home to Napoli in which he was yellow-carded and another against Frosinone two weeks later. Sampdoria had wrapped up both games before his introduction, sparing him from any real blood or thunder.
Blood and thunder was Vieira’s ballpark at Leeds but his experience of training in Italy has been more tactical and Sampdoria’s midfield will take a while to crack. Giampaolo has other credible options in Albin Ekdal, a Swede who played at the World Cup with Pontus Jansson, Poland international Karol Linetty and Belgium’s Dennis Praet. The vastly experienced Edgar Barreto is still going at a high level at the age of 34.
For Giampaolo the pecking order is working. Sampdoria are fifth in Serie A behind four clubs more likely to compete for the title - or second place behind Juventus - than them. The scenario in Genoa is requiring Vieira, still only 20, to bide his time. “He’s played very little so far but the general opinion is positive,” said Gaia Cifone, an Italian football writer who covers Sampdoria.
“The role in which he plays is very tough and a young player like him has to adapt to the Italian league’s play, which is more tactical and less physically demanding than English football. He will play but it’s going to take more time.”
Vieira’s transfer to Genoa was almost an overnight move, hastened by United’s sudden desire to sell him. He was told that a bid had been accepted on the Sunday before the start of the season and flew to Italy the following afternoon. On the day that he travelled for his medical, he and his girlfriend had been due to go house-hunting in Leeds. Negotiations moved quickly and Vieira signed a five-year contract with Sampdoria, earning himself a substantial pay-rise on the deal Radrizzani had given him 14 months earlier.
Vieira has travelled far since his birth in the African state of Guinea-Bissau, moving to Portugal where he linked up with Benfica before coming to England with his family as a teenager. He has long been fluent in English and is taking Italian lessons in Genoa in an attempt to help him settle. His family, including brother Romario who left Elland Road at the end of his contract in June and has recently been on trial at Bradford City, remained in Yorkshire for the time being.
Some relative inactivity in Italy has not hampered Vieira’s involvement with England and he is training with the Under-20 squad ahead of forthcoming friendlies against Italy and the Czech Republic. Tom Pearce, Leeds’ young left-back, is also in that pool having been called up before the international break.Vieira, however, is unable to play in official FIFA fixtures until he receives a British passport. He was recently granted permanent residency in England but is still going through a separate passport application process.
It is, in more ways than one, a hugely important juncture and a period which might define the success of his senior career. Vieira spoke with United defender Gaetano Berardi, a former Sampdoria player, about the transfer before he accepted it and followed a minor but growing trend of young English footballers branching out abroad.
“I want to improve tactically and technically and I think Giampaolo is the man who can do that for me,” Vieira said after signing. “Whether I’m playing, on the bench or in training, I’ll still be helping the team.
“I spoke to Berardi, who played here a few years ago, and he said it’s a very good club. So I took the challenge.”