AT last weekend’s player of the year dinner Andrea Radrizzani was quoted as saying that when he first looked around Leeds United he found a club trapped in the 1970s. It was the infrastructure that felt archaic to him, rather than the tokens of the Don Revie years.
Radrizzani promised innovation, which is what he said would bring to Elland Road when he put up the money for a 50 per cent stake in Leeds in January. “A modern structure, a modern club,” he said and Leeds are behind the curve in a business sense, despite accruing the highest turnover in the Championship last season. Maximising income in this division is one thing. What Radrizzani wanted was to be “ready for when we are back in the top league.”
Massimo Cellino is not renowned as an innovator, or not so much latterly. Cagliari’s stadium fell into serious disrepair during his last few years as owner and was restricted to crowds of 5,000 by the time he sold the club in 2014. Cagliari’s new owners quickly increased the capacity to 16,000 and, in February of this year, secured approval from the city council to construct a new ground at a cost of over £40m, capable of holding 22,000. Cellino’s own attempt to build a new stadium for Cagliari, the infamous IS Arenas, in 2012 is still the subject of criminal proceedings.
Leeds as a business have been streamlined by Cellino – accruing more revenue than they did under Gulf Finance House and losing less money, albeit while posting a loss of £8.9m in 2015-16 – but modernising the club should be Radrizzani’s strength.
The media rights firm he established, MP & Silva, was the product of a process which began many years earlier with Radrizzani selling primitive sports videos in Asia; a simple idea that tapped into a lucrative market.
The value of MP & Silva when Radrizzani left the company last year has been well documented. It is no bad thing to have a specialist in that field on board at a time when the sale of broadcasting rights in English football is increasingly open to change. And it is no surprise that Radrizzani wants to be free to run the club in his own manner, free from a 50-50 partnership with Cellino.
Infrastructure, still, is only part of the battle. Elland Road is in need of renovation and has been for years (it should get some this summer), and staff at Thorp Arch have been looking for upgrades to United’s training ground for some time but there is equal scope for more careful management of the club’s coaching staff and squad.
This is the fourth time in four years that Leeds have reached the close-season without first making a firm commitment to the incumbent manager or head coach.
There is enough noise in the background to suggest that the club will handle Monk in a different way to Brian McDermott, Neil Redfearn or Steve Evans and talks are planned for this weekend, but the delay in backing him creates an atmosphere where someone like Kyle Bartley – a balanced, unassuming character – feels compelled to ask what the club are playing at. The tone of the defender’s comments last weekend could not have been clearer; retain Monk or Bartley won’t be back. Not that anyone has spoken to Bartley about returning anyway.
Bartley was one of four loanees in Monk’s squad against Norwich City, only one of whom – Pontus Jansson – is signed for next season. Two others are out of contract after Sunday’s game at Wigan and five have 12 months remaining on their deals. Squad-building has not been a recent strength at Elland Road. Jansson, Chris Wood and Luke Ayling provide longer-term backbone but Leeds might anticipate offers for at least two of those players during the summer window.
Resisting bids and convincing the players concerned to ignore them will depend on creating an environment which says this season’s dalliance with the play-offs was not a one-off.
On reflection, Monk’s squad was built for this season. Much has been said about January failing to strengthen his arm and it was, with hindsight, a month in which Leeds could have been braver.
Monk wanted Sergi Canos, who joined Brentford from Norwich for £2.5m, and Canos made that fee seem like a bargain when Brentford beat Leeds at Griffin Park last month. As an alternative, United loaned Alfonso Pedraza from Villarreal; a deal which committed the club to signing the winger for more than £8m if they were promoted this season.
Pedraza has had his moments but at no stage has he looked like three times the footballer Canos is. One deal would have cost up front. The other was done on the never-never. Brentford have the benefit of Canos next season while Pedraza heads home to Spain.
The summer transfer window was no different; a period in which Leeds dealt within relatively tight limits. In light of restricted transfer funds and a modest wage bill, their recruitment was exceptional but it will be a challenge to find a Bartley or Jansson in that way again.
It will be challenge for Monk to attempt to deliver for a second time without an increase in the playing budget and a few more gambles. He will surely say as much when he and the club sit down to talk.
This is new territory for Radrizzani, an area of business unlike most others and which prior to January he had never seen at close range.
The appointment of Ivan Bravo to the board last week lends him the voice of someone who witnessed the inner workings of Real Madrid and the suggestion this week that more additions to the senior management team at Elland Road are coming cannot be bad thing.
There is no denying the progress made or the fact that Leeds need more.