Leeds United were a breath of fresh air when they returned to the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa in 2020. The club had been out of the top flight for 16 years but finished ninth in their first season back.
But things have gone seriously awry since then and there are serious questions to be asked of the club’s recruitment strategy following their poor start to life back in the second tier. A number of their high-profile, big-money signings will be plying their trade elsewhere as Leeds try to get back out of the Championship.
“After relegation, it’s normal that sometimes there are questions. Players are used to playing at Premier League level”, Farke told reporters at a recent press conference.
“Learn the lessons of this window. How we create the contracts for the future. In my opinion, as a club, we have to be in the driving seat I know why there are clauses like this. Players need this when they negotiate. In my view: we don’t sign these players if they demand it. 90 per cent of players demand this. We should not do this. We are Leeds United.
“I want players who are fully committed to the full length of their contract without a thought for exit clauses. In the future, we have to ensure we are always in control of contracts.”
After going up in 2020, the club have spent almost £141million on new signings that will play no role in Leeds’ 2023-24 Championship campaign. The vast majority have been loaned out, with Leeds recouping just £3million on that investment.
Note: we haven’t included any players that are still included Farke’s squad this season, such as Junior Firpo and Daniel James, despite their transfer value decreasing since joining Leeds.
Jack Harrison – £11million
The latest player to depart Leeds’ squad is the one that stings the most. Harrison made over 200 appearances for Leeds and was an integral player of that Bielsa side.
The winger nearly departed for Leicester City back in February, even getting as far as doing a medical, before the plug was pulled. A few weeks later, he signed a new contract at Elland Road – one with a relegation loan release clause, which doesn’t appear the wisest move from the club given they were in the relegation zone when they offered it to Harrison.
Harrison is one of the club’s most sellable assets and could conceivably have made them a healthy profit on the £11million fee they paid Manchester City back in 2021. But it appears as though he’ll be spending the 2023-24 campaign at Everton, having agreed personal terms, and failing to recoup any kind of transfer fee in the process.
Max Wober – £11million
Leeds were crying out for a left-back during their dismal 2022-23 campaign. Wober, an £11million signing that had played under Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg, was promised as one. Yet he only played once in that position, instead featuring more prominently in the centre of defence.
The Austria international actually looked a solid addition to Leeds’ backline but ultimately couldn’t stop the rot as Leeds flitted between three coaches in five months and went down miserably. He’s since joined Bundesliga Borussia Monchengladbach on loan, prompting rumours of a relegation clause in his contract.
“I’m telling you with a heavy heart that I’m leaving Leeds United for coming season on loan,” Wober wrote on Instagram.
“I’m forever grateful for the support you gave me from the minute I set foot on Elland Road. It really means a lot to me. I totally understand the disappointment with some of you. But for me it is a necessary step to show myself at the highest level and to be able to secure a spot in the national team of Austria for the Euros in 2024.”
Brenden Aaronson – £24.7million
Leeds first attempted to sign the USMNT international during the January 2022 transfer window, when Marcelo Bielsa was still at the helm. He eventually arrived six months later, joining Marsch’s doomed Red Bull-influenced project at Elland Road.
There were some early positive signs – such as scoring the opener in a 3-0 win over Chelsea – but Aaronson ultimately looked hopelessly out of his depth when it came to the physicality of the Premier League. His stock has tumbled dramatically over the course of an unsuccessful debut season at Elland Road.
It looks like a tall order for Leeds to recoup much of their £24.7million outlay on Aaronson’s signature now.
But he’s still only 22, has four years left on his contract, and will have the shop window of Champions League football out on loan with Union Berlin next season. He looks better suited to the Bundesliga and might yet come good.
The Chelsea goalkeeper has had a shocker and Brenden Aaronson pounces to give Leeds United the lead! 😮 pic.twitter.com/BhFGost0gT
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 21, 2022
Rasmus Christensen – £10million
The Denmark international’s lack of nous in possession was ultimately symptomatic of where things went wrong under Marsch. But there’s a certain degree of logic to an old-school, punt-it-forward full-back joining Jose Mourinho at Roma on loan next term. Watch this space.
The 26-year-old remains contracted at Elland Road until 2027 and Leeds need him to be a success at the Stadio Olimpico if they’re to make the £10million fee they paid RB Salzburg look like good business.
Marc Roca – £10million
It might not have worked out, but you could see the thinking behind signing a number of Red Bull alumni (Aaronson, Christensen, Tyler Adams) to join Marsch at Leeds. Roca – a technically-gifted passer that struggles to impose himself out of possession – always looked like a less natural fit.
The Spanish midfielder had his moments but he struggled to show his qualities in a side that never looked to keep the ball. Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis – another loan – looks like the kind of move that should get the best out of him.
A £10million fee doesn’t look disastrous if Roca looks the part in La Liga. Ironically, he might have actually been a decent fit for the possession-focused style demanded by Farke.
It will be interesting to see whether there’s a place for him back at his parent club if they can make it back to the Premier League in his absence.
Jean-Kevin Augustin – £18million
Oh dear. That’s not including the £24.5million the club have been forced to pay Augustin in wages after being found to have breached his contract.
Robin Koch – £11.5million
Signed to bolster Leeds’ defence following their failure to land Ben White on a permanent deal after getting promoted, Koch arrived with plenty of pedigree – an £11.5million fee for a Germany international looked reasonable enough.
But he spent much of his first two seasons with the club struggling with injuries and unable to nail down a consistent run of starts in the first team. The centre-back was unable to fix Leeds’ defensive failings when finally fit and regularly available.
Leeds have effectively lost Koch on a free, given he’s set to spend the final year of his contract out on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt. A £430,000 loan fee is scant consolation.
Diego Llorente – £18million
Spending £18million on Llorente is one thing. Handing him a contract extension to 2026 after a spell of poor form is another entirely. A few weeks after penning a new deal, he joined Roma on loan and looks set to be a headache for the Leeds hierarchy for a few more years.
The centre-back didn’t play much of a role at Roma in the latter half of last season, but Mourinho evidently likes him. The Portuguese coach gave Llorente his Real Madrid debut back in 2013 and has brought him back to the Italian capital for another stint.
Rodrigo – £27million
The statement signing of Leeds’ post-promotion £100million splurge, Rodrigo arrived from Valencia as Spain’s No.9 with Champions League experience under his belt.
For a long time, the striker struggled to live up to that billing and could never quite cover ground like Bielsa demanded. But few could question his commitment to the cause or work-rate as he played through injury and scored 13 Premier League goals in 2022-23.
He departs with more than a tinge of regret about how things might have gone.
Yet receiving just £3million from Qatari side Al Rayyan is a reminder that signing a younger, developing player with more potential resale value might have been more prudent back in 2020.