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Leeds United’s big gamble is doomed to failure

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Leeds United is one of the biggest football clubs in the UK. However, the past 20 years have been tough for the whites, characterised by poor leadership off the field and exacerbated by financial problems that nearly led the club to liquidation.

Their return to the Premier League in 2020 under Marcelo Bielsa was a magnificent effort by a club besotted by financial woes for so long, and it seemed as though Leeds had finally turned the corner and were on their way back to the top.

But fast-forward three years, and things aren’t looking quite so rosy. Bielsa is long gone, and his successor, Jesse Marsch, has also vacated the manager’s office. Marsch was backed handsomely in the summer and January transfer windows to propel Leeds United into the top half of the table. Still, the board’s financial gamble looks set to backfire spectacularly.

Let’s look at what Leeds have spent and what’s at stake should they be relegated from the top flight this year. 

Replacing the irreplaceable  

In the summer of 2022, Leeds’ long-serving captain Kalvin Phillips moved to Manchester City in a deal with £44 million. It’s easy to forget about this transfer, given that Phillips has barely featured for City since his move. 

But he was the beating heart of the Leeds United team, a passionate fan, and a talented footballer all at the same time. How on earth do you replace someone like Kalvin Phillips? Put simply; you don’t. 

Leeds’ other significant departure in the summer saw Raphinha move to Barcelona in a £50 million deal. As talented as the Brazilian is, his transfer caused less damage to the team’s structure, although they certainly miss his goals and creativity.  

In fairness to Andrea Radrizzani and the Leeds board, they were more than happy to reinvest the money they earned from these transfers into the playing squad, and a handful of new players moved to Elland Road.  

But has the gamble of signing non-established Premier League players to replace Phillips and Raphinha paid off for Leeds?

The new arrivals  

Leeds spent £20 million on Tyler Adams and £23 million on Branden Aaronson to replace the outgoing Phillips and Raphinha, respectively. Interestingly, both were signed from RB clubs – Aaronsen from Salzburg and Adams from Leipzig.  

While Adams has impressed Leeds fans with his grit and determination in the centre of midfield, he hasn’t yet developed into a player of Phillips’ calibre.  

Equally, Aaronson has shown glimpses of his quality, but with only one Premier League goal in 23 appearances, he hasn’t had the output his teammates need.  

Arguably the biggest summer success story for Leeds has been the diminutive Wilfried Gnonto, a brilliant player with a low centre of gravity signed for just £4 million from FC Zurich.  

The glaring problem with these summer acquisitions is that they have bags of potential that they have yet to reach. Unfortunately, Leeds are currently in the bottom three in the Premier League, and they can’t wait for these guys to achieve their potential.  

This prompted Leeds to go big in January, recruiting Max Wober (£11 million RB Salzburg), Georginio Rutter (£25 million Hoffenheim), Weston Mckennie (loan, Juventus), and Diogo Monteiro (undisclosed, Servette). 

Their January outlay was a huge gamble – but will it work? 

Can Leeds stay up?  

The Premier League will be less entertaining without Leeds United, but can they stay up? They’ve just appointed Javi Garcia as their new boss – the third team in trouble to replace their coach in a matter of weeks, alongside Everton and Southampton.

But the warning signs are there. In poker, players are taught to follow solid bankroll management, only spending what they can afford to lose. That way, you can’t overstretch your finances by playing too high stakes and going bust. Unfortunately, Leeds have not followed the same advice and have few cards left to play.

It seems they overspent on players in the summer who aren’t quite up to the impeccably high standards demanded of Premier League football. They followed this up with a huge financial outlay in January, again on players with no EPL football experience.  

The reality is that Leeds lost their two best players in the summer of 2022, and they haven’t been able to replace them. They have also lost much of their identity following the departure of Marcelo Bielsa, and it remains to be seen whether Javi Garcia has what it takes to keep them in the Premier League.  

If they drop down to the Championship, Leeds United could face financial peril again, something that their loyal and long-suffering fans could certainly do without.

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