Phil Hay: The end should be nigh for Lasogga at Leeds United
One of the men responsible for financing Hamburg's recent adventures, Klaus-Michael Kuhne, called it 'Harakiri' and Hamburg are gaining a reputation in Germany for doing themselves in. Fifty-five straight years in the Bundesliga will end shortly, resetting a clock inside their stadium which times the length of their top-flight stay to the second.
Earlier this season Kuhne pulled his money and his support, beaten by an investment which left him £50m lighter. The businessman, who made a fortune through a transport firm based in Switzerland, reached the conclusion that the money he was spending on Hamburg was “disproportionate” and achieving little. “The fees being spent in the industry now are on a different level,” he told German media. “Some transfers have been complete flops.”
The Harakiri which Kuhne complained about was Pierre-Michel Lasogga. Hamburg went big on Lasogga in 2014, paying Hertha Berlin £8m to convert a season-long loan and hiking his wage to the level of a full Germany international (Lasogga was not that). Kuhne was quoted as calling Lasogga a “loser” and “the flop of the century.”
“After half a good season he was given a five-year contract and an annual salary of over three million euros,” he said. “That was Harakiri.”
Hamburg’s motivation for sending Lasogga to Leeds United last summer was twofold: to rid themselves of a player who their then coach, Markus Gisdol, had blackballed and to help Lasogga to accrue some resale value. Leeds were asked to pay around a quarter of his weekly wage, worth around £50,000 a week, and the wisdom of Hamburg’s generosity will be judged soon. Suddenly the club need offers for Lasogga. With relegation unavoidable, Hamburg need money.
Leeds, at the outset, saw Lasogga as the proverbial with-a-view-to-a-permanent signing but did not negotiate an option to buy as part of their negotiations to take the striker on loan last August. They were speculatively interested in a longer-term transfer but aware that the cost of retaining Lasogga permanently might be prohibitive for a Championship club. The 26-year-old has a year left at Hamburg, though no-one in Germany expects him to play there next season. On the salary spelled out so explicitly by Kuhne, those 12 months are worth in excess of £2m, two times the highest weekly wage at Elland Road.
The figures involved have not stopped Leeds examining the possibility of a deal. As recently as the beginning of March, United’s board were exploring ways to keep Lasogga on board, on a Championship contract and within their budget. Lasogga had tweaked their interest with five goals in six games. There are glaring limits to Lasogga’s game but what was said about him in the German press before he arrived in England has proven to be true: for all that is wrong with him, and for all the lack of mobility and movement that modern centre-forwards need, Lasogga can finish.
As a journalist for Bild succinctly put it: “If he doesn’t score, he’s the worst player on the pitch.”
In that respect it was a close call between Lasogga and Jay-Roy Grot at Aston Villa on Friday night. They were, as game-changing substitutions go, the equivalent of fielding two forklift trucks against Villa’s defence. Lasogga touched the ball seven times and completed the only pass he attempted. Grot, in twice the time on the field, touched the ball five times and saw his solitary pass go astray. Their levels of fitness gave Villa a free pass and their motivation was dubious. This, apparently, is the time when players at Leeds are trying to avoid the cull. Friday was a visit to the biggest stadium in the Championship, in front of a live television audience. Noel Whelan, speaking on BBC Radio Leeds, described the effort of Lasogga and Grot as “diabolical”. Paul Heckingbottom alluded to crossed words in the dressing room at full-time.
Where Heckingbottom is concerned, the sight of token effort is a worry. Footballers keep the media at arm’s length but no-one in United’s squad could have failed to notice that Heckingbottom’s future was a matter of speculation in the 48 hours before the game at Villa. The talk of another change of head coach at Leeds was loud enough to get through. Heckingbottom would have looked for his squad to rally round in Birmingham. Instead, his final two substitutes helped Villa survive the last half-hour by failing to kick the ball in anger.
It reflected poorly on them and said nothing good about the professional fibre of Heckingbottom’s dressing room. Two months have passed since Andrea Radrizzani dug United’s players out by publicly questioning their commitment. There are some in the camp who are vindicating his criticism and in Lasogga’s case, the end should be nigh. Throwing good money after bad at the German would be Harakiri by Kuhne’s definition. Thanks for the goals but a good Championship team needs far more than that.