The good news is that Brenden Aaronson looks every inch a player Leeds need. The bad news is that he’s every inch a player Real Salzburg need.
The Austrian Bundesliga leaders knocked back the Whites’ initial bid, believed to be in the region of £15m, despite it representing a healthy profit margin for a player they signed just a year ago for around €6m.
There are obvious factors that will embolden Salzburg, reasons why they sit in such a strong position. Chiefly, they have in their possession a contract that runs until 2025, so will feel no pressure to sell now, unless of course the 21-year-old makes clear his intention to leave for the Premier League and the YEP understands that is yet to happen.
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A player showing such potential is of course unlikely to see out such a long contract in the Austrian Bundesliga and Aaronson will have known a big move was in his future when he touched down in Austria - Salzburg have a list as long as his arm of players they identified, signed, developed and sold to top clubs in top leagues. But, even if he stays put this month, there is plenty to look forward to - Salzburg have up their sleeve an historic and mouth-watering Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, not to mention a potential league and cup double for the fourth successive season.
By seeing out the campaign, Aaronson will see more silverware and, according to Lee Wingate of The Other Bundesliga podcast, the American’s contribution is so key that it makes a January departure seem unlikely.
“Under Marsch he often played as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 system but seemed to have licence to roam where he pleased,” he told the YEP.
“Now, under Mathias Jaissle, he plays at the front of a midfield diamond behind the two attackers where he has been outstanding in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, with three goals and seven assists across 26 appearances.
“He is a really pacey player who carries the ball well, has a good eye for a team-mate, reads the game well and is an important factor in Salzburg’s build-up play. Defensively, he is very energetic and presses from the front. I’d imagine he’d be exactly the kind of player Bielsa would want.
“There’s an acknowledgement at Salzburg that they can’t keep hold of their best players forever but they believe in Aaronson and they will probably think they can get a bit more money for him later down the line. The timing simply doesn’t suit Salzburg: a sizeable fee would be well and good but now they have finally got to the Champions League knockout stage, they need a team that can compete. That’s why I’d say that, unless Leeds or another club really blow them out of the water with an offer, he will stay for a while.”
That Champions League clash with Bayern will form a big part of Salzburg’s internal discussion when it comes to Leeds’ ongoing pursuit of their midfielder.
They will go into the games as rank outsiders but the prestige is considerable and the shop window will widen for Aaronson if he plays well against the German giants.
“Coming over to Austria and immediately helping Salzburg to become the first-ever Austrian club to reach the Champions League knockout stages is likely to be a big pull,” said Wingate.
“I think there is a feeling that they have finally got through at the third attempt and they are simply going to enjoy it. They’re obviously up against one of the strongest teams in Europe, who beat them twice in the competition last season. The 6-2 defeat was especially chastening, but I think there’s a feeling this team has more defensive steel under Jaissle and that they could at least give Bayern a game and keep the score lower. Aaronson has been great in their campaign so far, playing in all six group games. I’d be surprised if he wanted to give up that knockout football and move straight away, especially when you consider he only joined the club from Philadelphia Union last January and so hasn’t even completed a full season yet.
“But he will surely be looking to move on at some point. That’s how the Salzburg business model works: they develop players and sell them on for a significant profit. The question is more when and where he goes, rather than if.”
What Leeds can offer is Marcelo Bielsa and Premier League status, which was enough to convince Raphinha to park his Champions League involvement and ambition.
Like the Brazilian, Aaronson grew up on the other side of the Atlantic with dreams of playing in the English top flight but, on this occasion, Leeds are not sitting down with a club who have every intention of selling their asset.
If they’re to get their man, Andrea Radrizzani and the 49ers are going to have to send Victor Orta into negotiations with the strongest possible hand.