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Should they stay, or should they go? Who should Leeds United set free this summer?

Part 1 of 2: looking at which of Leeds’s almost-heroes should stay for another crack at promotion, and who we’d rather see the back of.

Leeds United v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Semi Final: Second Leg Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

As the curtain closed on another devastating end to a quite remarkable season, the Elland Road faithful were left wondering how it had happened again. How had Leeds United’s vice-like grip on the playoff semi-final been so easily disentangled by a Derby County side who for 314 minutes of football against Leeds this season, had barely mustered a shot on target?

For the Leeds fans, that old familiar feeling of disbelief made way for a lingering hangover of disappointment and exasperation. But as disappointed as they may have been, abandonment is one thing that Leeds fans never consider. Immediately after the loss, fans and pundits alike set in motion plans for next season, and the dismantling of the team began on social media. With lofty ambitions to keep Marcelo Bielsa and finally gain promotion, this squad needs to make some changes – and here are a few players I would start with.

Gaetano Berardi - SELL

This one was easy; Berardi has to go. And before I hear the shouts of: “Oh, but he’s the most passionate, determined member of the squad. We need his sort of character in this team” - we don’t. Not to his extent. All the bravado and aggression that makes him so endearing to the die-hard fans, also makes him a walking red card. When the pressure’s on and Leeds need a calm head at the back, Gaetano is, and has shown on multiple occasions, a liability.

Although placing the blame on Berardi for the capitulation against Derby isn’t fair, he does have a lot to answer for. Additionally, he’s 30 years old now and is never going to be a starter in a squad where Ayling, Douglas, Cooper, Jansson and even Alioski will play ahead of him if fit. And within Bielsa’s system, which needs every player on the pitch to be comfortable on the ball, Berardi sometimes looks out of place. If he leaves, no one will wish him ill such is his commitment to Leeds United, but please Victor Orta, save the club some inevitable future grief and find Berardi a new home.

Patrick Bamford – SELL

I will never understand why we spent £7million on Bamford in the first place. The signing reeks of a lack of communication between Head Coach and Director of Football, as it is hard to believe that Bielsa would have handpicked a striker as languid and immobile as Bamford. He doesn’t fit in to the system Bielsa is trying to implement, and we look a far more threatening side with Kemar Roofe up front.

Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Now this isn’t to say Bamford is a bad player. He’s had some rocky moments in a Leeds United shirt, but he’s also shown flashes of potential that has kept him in and around good teams for the past few years. Unfortunately, it’s looking less and less likely he is ever going to fulfil this potential as his form and confidence never got going in the 2018/19 season. Offer him out to other Championship clubs, try and recoup some of what we paid for him, and reinvest the money in finding a better replacement.

Kiko Casilla – SELL

This may seem harsh on the Spaniard after only spending half a season with the Whites, but if we can line up a cheap and more reliable replacement, then cutting our losses with Casilla might not be a terrible idea. Much like Berardi, Casilla is a loose cannon. An eccentric madman seemingly intent on inspiring as much drama as possible and equally as little confidence in his defence - not the ideal characteristics of a goalkeeper. In the past few days it seems these views have been shared by the staff at Elland Road, as the rumours of a Casilla departure have massively picked up pace.

However, as Leeds have shown in recent years, finding a reliable keeper on the cheap is a lot harder than it looks. There would be no point in selling an ex-Real Madrid keeper to replace him with someone just as irresponsible between the sticks. Perhaps given a full Championship season Casilla could kick on his development and kick out those moments of madness, flourishing into the top-class keeper he’s always had the potential to be. There are other areas of the team that need more attention, so only sell if we’re bringing in a proven and quality keeper to take his place.

Leeds United v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Players on loan who should move away permanently

Samu Saiz

Clearly talented, but clearly anguished. Despite the adoration from the fans and even the coaching staff, Saiz has made it clear that he’s not happy at Elland Road and with life in sunny Leeds. His loan spell at Getafe wasn’t the most productive, and as a result, the Spanish club will not be making his loan move a permanent one. This leaves Saiz in limbo, not knowing where his career will turn next. But for the right price, surely another Spanish club will take a punt on the playmaker in a deal which could be mutually beneficial for Leeds and Saiz.

Caleb Ekuban

Surprisingly, Ekuban’s loan club - Trabzonspor - have indicated that they will activate at £860k transfer clause to keep the Ghanaian striker permanently after he bagged a few goals during the 18/19 season. With Bielsa already suggesting that Ekuban won’t be in his plans for next season, this move is a no-brainer, and I don’t think many of us will argue with his departure.

After hearing Radrizzani’s comments last week, and not to mention the recent debunking of the rumours about QSI’s investment, this summer might not see the flurry of activity in the transfer market that many believe is necessary. In which case, some of the sales above (and probably a few more) will be vital in facilitating investment in the squad. The back end of this season exposed the thin frailty of Leeds’s squad, and despite the attraction of our promising youth set-up, a few more quality, experienced players could be crucial. Leeds won’t replicate last season’s success with the same squad, so if bringing a few big names in means pushing a few out, then so be it.