Why Leeds United must adapt to the modern game

 

The 2017/18 season was an abject failure for Leeds United. Despite once being a club that regularly battled it out with the country’s elite for silverware, the Whites stuttered to a 13th-place finish in their eighth consecutive Championship campaign. 

Leeds United became a revolving door after their promotion to the Championship in 2010, with the Yorkshire giants hiring and firing 10 managers before handing the reigns to Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom in February 2018. Although some appointments proved to be inept, the Whites have had talented gaffers in the Elland Road hot seat.

Simon Grayson’s tenure oversaw a promotion to the second tier, the arrival of cult heroes such as Max Gradel and Ross McCormack and a 7th-place finish in the 2010/11 season. Neil Redfearn blooded young talent such as Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor, who both went on to secure moves to the promised land of the Premier League. Under the tutelage of Garry Monk, the Whites narrowly missed out on the top six and finished 7th for the second time since their Championship return.

Although regular axe wielding is detrimental to a club’s growth, there is another block in the road to a Premier League return. The club’s policy regarding transfers has kept a leash on the potential progress of the sleeping giants. Supporters have endured the sales of several star players and to suggest that it isn’t the most prevalent issue with the club’s transfer policy is a bold statement to make.

Yet it isn’t.

Many supporters, understandably so, have placed the blame on controversial Director of Football Victor Orta for Leeds’ shortcomings but the real issue lies with the restraints he works under. Orta’s recruits have been underwhelming to say the least but it would have been unrealistic to expect much more considering the budget he was given to operate on. Much has been made of the club’s insistence that no player will earn more than £15,000 a week and it is the biggest obstacle they face in their quest for promotion.

It instantly limits the calibre of player that can be signed because the market has inflated considerably over the last few years. In 2014, striker Noel Hunt was forced to deny that he was earning £15,000 a week during an exchange with a disgruntled fan on Twitter. Four years on, that amount is no longer considered sizable at the summit of England’s second tier.

It would be unrealistic to suggest that the Whites should look to replicate Wolverhampton Wanderers’ approach to transfer dealings but quality certainly needs to be prioritised over quantity for the campaign ahead. 19 players were brought in to make an impact in the first-team but many have already fallen by the wayside. Others are already on the verge of departing.

Orta has been slammed for his choice of players but his hands are tied to an extent, as proven talent in the Championship rarely comes for less than £15,000 a week. Nor do accomplished players from abroad. There are often calls for a greater focus on the recruitment of domestic talent but if the money is available, the player’s whereabouts fades into irrelevance. There are occasional diamonds that can be found for small fees, but they are rare and clubs with huge expectations weighing on them can’t wait for years to find undiscovered stars.

A squad cull is expected but if it is fully re-stocked with players of a similar ability to those departed, then no progress is made.

Paul Heckingbottom’s side have been strongly linked with a move for Swansea City’s Kyle Bartley, who shone for the Whites during a loan spell in the 2016/17 season. The relegated Swans have reportedly slapped a £6m price tag on his head, which has led many to question the club’s ability to bring him in. With other clubs such as Rangers reportedly keen to secure his signature, a sizable weekly wage is also likely to be needed on the table during discussions. Whether the club can capture Bartley or not will be a strong indicator of whether lessons have been learned. Rumours suggest that he has signalled his intention to return to Elland Road, leaving Leeds’ reluctance to part ways with a large fee the only obstacle to completion.

This is by no means a suggestion that the club should invest outside of their means, but the subsidising of Bartley’s fee and wages with the offloading of two or three players is something the club should seriously consider. It should have been done 12 months ago, when Bartley’s loan spell with the Whites came to an end. Instead, Everton’s Matthew Pennington was signed on a temporary basis to avoid having to splash out on a fee. Prolific talisman Chris Wood was integral part of Garry Monk’s side but in the aftermath of his sale to Burnley, Orta drafted in Pierre-Michel Lasogga to once again avoid the payment of a fee.

In 2018, money buys quality, and quality leads to success. If Leeds United want to bring an end to their period of stagnation, there must be a change in the way deals are approached.

What are your thoughts Leeds fans? Let us know in the comments below!