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An ode to Coops and Co. - the bargain buys who have taken us home and proved themselves at the top

With all the speculation of multi-million pound deals and record signings dominating conversation, it is now more important than ever to shine the light on those that brought us back to the top, and proved themselves against the elite... for a fraction of the price.

Leeds United v Manchester City - Premier League
Captain Liam Cooper leading Leeds into the Premier League, for just £675,000.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

As the European transfer deadline comes and goes for Leeds United in their first season back in the Premier League, conversation naturally gravitates towards new and expensive signings. It was £27million record signing Rodrigo that grabbed the headlines when he swept home the equaliser against European juggernauts Manchester City, to earn a point for the Whites at Elland Road.

The pre-game build up focused heavily on City’s most recent signing, Portuguese centre-back Ruben Dias for the small fee of almost £62million. Tommo pointed out on Twitter that the entire Leeds starting XI cost just £48.4million, including what now looks to be some absolute steals.

The core players of this now widely admired side have been signed over the past few years for the equivalent of a months wages for most of their recent opponents. It is these stalwarts that dragged us out the rubble of the Championship and into the promised land, achieving their own personal dream whilst bringing our collective dreams to life. Against the world’s elite they have proved themselves more than capable. It is them who we owe the most for the season to come. It is them who are Leeds United.

Over 200 appearances. Captain of a Championship winning team. Leader of one of the tightest defensive units in Europe last season. Not bad for just £675,000. That was all Leeds paid in August 2014 when they signed Yorkshire’s own Liam Cooper from Chesterfield FC. During his first four seasons at Elland Road he struggled to make a positive impact, drifting in and out of the first 11, and forming some questionable partnerships alongside the likes of Giuseppe Bellusci and Sol Bamba, tarnished with the nickname ‘League One Liam’. But since the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa that nickname couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Scotland international has lead the defensive line alongside Pontus Jansson, Ben White, and now Robin Koch, earning his place in the EFL Team of the Season and in the PFA Championship Team of the Season in 2018/19 and 2019/20 respectively. The ideal candidate for a Bielsa centre back; quick to press, aggressive on the ball, fantastic range of passing, and a natural leader of men. Above all, a humble, committed and mature footballer who looks to be relishing the challenge of facing the best strikers in the world. Bargain.

Leeds United v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

In August of the following year, pen was put to paper on a 3 year deal worth just £1.7million for Brentford winger Stuart Dallas. A player who split opinions in his first few seasons in West Yorkshire, but always had the clear backing of his team mates, earning Player’s Player of the Season in his first season, and again last season. Another huge beneficiary of the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa, who transformed Northern Ireland international Dallas from a winger that lacked many of the outstanding qualities needed for modern wing-play, into a ‘jack of all trades’ ultimate utility man, not just average in every position, but exceptional.

Most recently, stints in central midfield when Leeds play a back 3 have added another dimension to an already incredibly versatile player, who has kept first choice players on the bench at both right-back and left-back. To call him a utility man is almost an insult, implying he hits that 7/10 performance every game, wherever he plays. The fact is, he’s better, he’ll go higher than that whilst playing 2 or 3 different positions in one game! A figure of divisive nature no more, Stuart Dallas is seemingly one of the first names on the team sheet, for Bielsa and for the fans.

Liverpool v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Following his release from Arsenal in 2010, and subsequent move to Yeovil Town in League One, The Premier League looked a long long way away for Luke Ayling. After 3 seasons in League One and a season in the Championship with Yeovil, his contract ended and he went to Bristol City on a free transfer. After two seasons at Ashton Gate he was seemingly disregarded by manager Lee Johnson as he thought he couldn’t play on the right of a back 3. Leeds swooped in and picked him up for just £750,000. Ayling initially came in as a back up for Gaetano Berardi but impressive performances during Berardi’s spell on the sideline earned him first choice spot.

The last 4 seasons have seen Ayling become a mainstay in the ever-improving Leeds side, making the right-back position his own, and even proving his capabilities on the right of a 3, to Johnson and Bristol’s dismay. His calm and confident leadership qualities pulling the team through the rough patch at the start of 2020, despite how it seemed during the harrowing Nottingham Forest interview...

Ayling earned himself a place in the PFA Championship Team of the Season for the 2019/20 season, as well as beating the likes of Ollie Watkins and Aleksandar Mitrovic to the EFL Championship PFA Player of the Year. Not to forget Leeds’ Goal of the Season for his thunderous volley against Huddersfield Town of course.

Leeds United v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

And so to Mateusz Klich... midfield engine, technical genius, beautiful shithouse. Signed in the summer of 2017 for just £1.5 million. The fall and rise of the Poland international has been well documented, on his first and only league start of the season, when his unfortunate slip in the 28th minute allowed Kenneth Zohore to storm through and slot home, it seemed to Whites fans that we had just another midfield failure. Klich was shipped off to FC Utrecht on loan and forgotten about. (editor note - not on the Mighty Whites Podcast, which can be listened to here, #KlichNews)

Arguably the most outstanding revival of previously regarded mid-table talent under Bielsa has seen Mateusz Klich establish himself as the ever-present, never-tire, box-to-box central midfielder we so fondly love today. He typifies everything we love in a Leeds midfielder, Industrial work-rate balanced in perfect harmony with technical prowess, topped lightly with that insatiable ability to rattle opponents at will.

To have had a player who possesses every quality that Leeds fans desire at our disposal since 2017, and not get the best out of him for so long is just one of many criminal examples of our previous mis-management. However, as with everyone at Elland Road, he is relishing the chance to rattle some of the best in the world.

FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL-LEEDS Photo by PAUL ELLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Honourable mentions go to the likes of Pablo Hernandez, who signed from Al-Arabi FC on a free transfer, Gjianni Alioski who signed for £2.25 million from FC Lugano in 2017, and most recently, 20 year old Ilian Meslier who has already caught the eyes of the world with early Premier League performances, signed from FC Lorient for just £5.85 million.

To add to this academy graduates such as England international Kalvin Phillips, recent Premier League debutant Leif Davis and Jamie Shackleton, shows how intelligent Leeds have been with some of their transfers. Admittedly, they have come about within a myriad of flops and failures, but that doesn’t matter anymore, they do not matter anymore. All that matters are the players that have cemented themselves as Premier League footballers, as internationals, as club legends.

Leeds have proven, clearer than ever, that you don’t need ridiculous money to play with the big boys.