As Emile Smith-Rowe burst past the West Bromwich Albion defence before slotting home a winning goal for Huddersfield Town, the people of Leeds went crazy with excitement and pride as 16-year old dreams came true. Many were living in the moment throughout a historic weekend in Leeds United’s history, from the celebrations outside Elland Road to the guard of honour at Pride Park and all the way to the final game of the season against Charlton.
Liam Cooper lifted the trophy above his head to signify the incredible feat achieved by everyone at the football club. Players, coaches, staff members of all kinds, they let us dream of a new Leeds United in the Premier League.
Once everyone had gone home, they began to settle into the idea of Leeds being in the top flight once again, and with it came the question of summer signings. Now, with the international transfer window closed, Leeds have just about done their business for the summer, with a two week window to trade with the EFL now all the business that is available to English clubs.
So now that the window has been and gone, we’ll take you through the line of events that led to Leeds making their final signing in the final hour of the window.
Going all the way back to the start of the window, Leeds CEO Angus Kinnear promised that this team would continue to play swash-buckling football in the Premier League as they targeted the best talent that the Championship had to offer.
Said Benrahma, Emi Buendia, John Swift, Ollie Watkins and Todd Cantwell were named among others. However, some of these players would come at a huge price. £10-15 million used to get you the Championship’s top scorer, now it costs £25-30 million. Leeds kept in touch with signing these players while looking elsewhere to see if they can make some shrewd deals.
Meanwhile, Ben White returned to Brighton following his loan at Leeds United. It’s safe to say that the 22-year old was performed flawlessly from start to finish. Masterful on the ball and an excellent defender who embodies everything required in a modern centre-back. But such a talented English player also comes at a steep price; £35 million was quoted, and Leeds would look to find a compromise for a while.
Links started to get running in late July, with the names of Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming not from the press, but from the Leeds owner, Andrea Radrizzani.
While Leeds were looking to identify their first team targets, they were also completing shrewd deals for exciting young players. After completing the permanent transfer of Illan Meslier, Leeds looked toward the signing of Joe Gelhardt for just £1 million from Wigan Athletic, who were going through financial trouble at the end of last season.
Between the end of the season and the signing of Gelhardt, Leeds made offers for Florentino at Benfica, Jonathan David at KAA Gent and Fulham’s young defender Cody Drameh, the latter being the only one to sign as the other deals could not be progressed.
In quick succession, Leeds completed the deal for Gelhardt (£1 million), Drameh (£400k), 16-year-old Charlie Allen from Linfield (£300k), Dani van den Heuvel from Ajax (free transfer) and another loan deal for Manchester City winger Jack Harrison after a fantastic campaign in the 19/20 season.
New contracts were signed by the likes of Matuesz Bogusz, Alfie McCalmont and Jamie Shackleton while Leeds had made three bids for Ben White, all of which were rejected, leading Victor Orta to turn his attention toward Freiburg’s Germany international Robin Koch.
On August 21st, we received first word of a possible shock deal for Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno as the La Liga side sat amid a financial crisis. The Whites made an official offer two days later and agreed a £27 million deal for Spain’s number nine on August 25th. The deal was confirmed a few days later alongside Robin Koch for £13.5 million.
Rodrigo was previously valued at over £50 million by Valencia, while Robin Koch was signed for a great price as his contract at Freiburg entered it’s final year.
Sam Greenwood appeared out of nowhere from Arsenal in a deal worth £1.5 million (increasing with add-ons) as the 18-year old sought a clear path to first team football. He’s started brilliantly for the Leeds under-23s and has been nominated for PL2 Player of the Month while being an instant hit with the fans. Another exciting youngster entered the doors at Elland Road soon after, as Crysencio Summerville arrived from Feyenoord.
By September 6th Leeds had filled two of the biggest gaps in the team with the arrivals of Rodrigo and Koch, but The Whites were still in need of a central midfielder and were considering another defensive purchase.
This is where the sagas of Rodrigo De Paul and Josko Gavrdiol began, as Leeds entered talks to sign both as it looked as though the deals could be done swiftly. A deal was quickly agreed for Gvardiol’s services, as Dinamo Zagreb were “blown away“ by Leeds’ offer, while personal terms weren’t an issue. RB Leipzig gave Gvardiol something to think about though, and put the intentions of the 18-year old Croatian in a deep fog.
Rodrigo De Paul had just come off the back of an incredibly productive couple of seasons at Udinese in Serie A, as he had the most direct goal involvements of all Serie A players since Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at fellow suitors Juventus two years ago.
Udinese slapped a £30 million price tag on De Paul’s services, with personal terms quickly agreed for a reported £70k per week. The press in Europe seemed adamant that a deal was getting closer and closer as time went on, but amidst every story telling us about a new bid or new demand from Udinese, nothing really seemed to change.
Fans started to get restless, as they urged the club to meet the demands of the Italians, the saga dragged on for weeks and it seemed as though a quick conclusion could be easily met - pay-up.
Even the player himself was getting restless as he confirmed his wish to sign for Leeds on Twitter, replying to supporters online who were asking about the progress of the deal. The situation seemed clear as day, this deal can happen. Reports emerged that a £25 million bid had been rejected, but it seemed clear that Leeds were serious and a deal was very possible.
But all eyes shifted to the first team as they finally made their official return to the promised land in a baptism of fire at Anfield. New centre-back Robin Koch was put in a tough position as the more senior centre back alongside young Pascal Struijk as they came up against the most potent attack in world football.
It was a difficult one for the new-boys, as Koch was hard done by just minutes into his debut with a deflected ball onto his arm, resulting in a penalty kick. Leeds kept dragging themselves back into the game in fantastic style, and looked to be getting a valuable point from Anfield. However, Rodrigo made a clumsy challenge in the box which resulted in a late penalty which gave Liverpool a 4-3 win.
A defeat but an admirable performance resulted in fans and officials alike finding out what Leeds have and what Leeds need. The overall style and athleticism of the team can cause problems for any opponent, but there were clearly defensive frailties that needed to be addressed.
This was further seen in Leeds’ 4-3 victory over Fulham, as the Whites had pulled away in the score line early in the second half, before Fulham hit Leeds with two sucker punches which posed further questions over whether The Whites has enough strength in defence.
✍️ #LUFC are delighted to announce the signing of defender Diego Llorente from Real Sociedad— Leeds United (@LUFC) September 24, 2020
Leeds acted, signing Real Sociedad centre-back Diego Llorente for £18 million, as La Liga clubs struggled to hold onto their best talents due to financial difficulty. The 27-year old is yet to be seen in a Leeds jersey, and we’ll have to wait at least another couple of weeks while Llorente joins Rodrigo on Spanish international duty.
So - it’s September 24th, and Leeds have signed three international players, two of which strengthen the backline hugely. Meanwhile, there were still two positions to be sorted out by Leeds, with just a couple of weeks to get any deal done.
On the same day as Llorente’s arrival, the name of Bayern midfielder Michael Cuisance appeared as a possible option to fill the midfield spot, as it had been reported that Marcelo Bielsa was his biggest fan.
Talk of this deal went a little quiet as AZ Alkmaar’s Teun Koopmeiners, Utrecht’s Gyrano Kerk and Fiorentina’s Erick Pulgar had been attracting all sorts in attention in the media. Talk of Rodrigo De Paul had lowered dramatically and Josko Gvardiol had chosen RB Leipzig over Leeds, with the media letting loose on possible targets.
Following Leeds’ 1-0 win over Sheffield United, there was sudden movement in the transfer market. Despite strong links to Norwich’s Todd Cantwell, Leeds made an £18 million offer for Bayern Munich’s Michael Cuisance. The deal escalated quickly, as a deal was in place inside 48 hours.
£20 million was the agreed fee with a sizeable buy-back clause also included. On October 1st, the Frenchman arrived at Thorp Arch for a medical as the move seemed done. However, as the night went on, fans started to get anxious with concern over the position of the move. Deadline day was approaching and Leeds were in need of a player like Cuisance, a hungry young player with great talent who fits the bill of a creative player with strong defensive output.
The deal could not be done, with rumours and reasons flying around for half an hour before we got the settled reason for the deal’s breakdown. Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa could not accept the physical condition of Cuisance, who had an under-lying foot/ankle issue that would rule him out for several weeks. Bielsa vetoed the move and the Leeds faithful accepted that universally (well, almost) as the Argentine leads the way and rules over his squad.
Three days to go, deadline day fast approaches and supporters are keen to hear of news of Victor Orta pulling off another fantastic deal as Leeds were still in search for a midfielder and winger. Nahitan Nandez was named but unlikely, Demarai Gray was named but without substance and Jose Campana was subject to a bid that was swiftly rejected.
Leeds seemingly struggled to make a breakthrough, but there were bigger moments ahead. Marcelo Bielsa was focused on preparing his side for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side. Just as build-up entered the final hour before kick-off, the name of Raphinha was mentioned as Leeds made a £17 million bid for the Brazilian winger from Rennes.
Everyone’s focus was on the game, as the first 20 minutes felt like an entire game for Leeds fans as the team soaked up seemingly relentless pressure from a City side who had received huge criticism throughout the week following a 2-5 scoreline against Leicester City. Then, Leeds pushed back, and record signing Rodrigo scored the equalising goal as he opened his account in a white shirt. A valuable point from a valiant performance.
After the game, fans opened Twitter to the news that the club’s bid for Raphinha had been accepted, beginning a race against time to complete the deal before Monday night’s deadline.
The 23-year old played his final game for Rennes against Stade Reims on the Sunday night, as he had a dream send off scoring a goal and assisting the other, before jetting off to Leeds in the early hours of the morning.
Reported Leeds target Raphinha starts and finishes a move for Rennes in style ✨ pic.twitter.com/8ihdSl87RG— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 4, 2020
Waking up on Monday, the clock is already ticking. It’s been ticking long before any of us woke up, Leeds have until 11pm to get the work of an entire transfer done within one day.
The medical was done 12 hours before the deadline hit, while talk of a work permit were strongly circulated, as it seemed as though the permit was the only thing that stood between Leeds and Raphinha.
It was well documented that the Brazilian held an Italian passport, but there were inconsistencies in what this meant for a work permit in the UK. In the end, it was declared that it wouldn’t be a hassle, but the Leeds officials still had work to do.
Angus Kinnear appeared on Sky Sports with an hour and a half to go, Raphinha was in the building, but we’ve been here before. He smiled and assured us that things were on track, before putting us back where he found us: in the palm of his hand.
Meanwhile across the channel, Rennes fans were furious at the departure of Raphinha, as their star winger had only just signed a year ago. They started a trend on French Twitter, slating the city of Leeds and reducing our culture to fish and chips surrounded by a number of derogatory words and remarks.
It’s fun to be so hated again, with fans and pundits alike constantly praising Leeds for the style of football that the team plays. ‘Everyone’s second team?’ Are they having a laugh? This is what Leeds fans are used to.
The Leeds United faithful are also used to drama, and deadline day tends to epitomise drama before it even begins on the pitch. We’re all too used to that as the infamous “don’t go to bed just yet,“ tweet remains a stand-out moment from ‘the banter years’ at Leeds United, with two first team players leaving late-on in the 2014 summer window.
Leeds Twitter saw the opening, and the club’s social media admin pounced, announcing the deal with a plate of fish and chips with the very same caption we remember from six years ago, and it’s a much nicer memory now.
Raphinha signed on, and Leeds still have two weeks to sign a central midfielder from the EFL if they want to, but there’s more to this summer than the big-money figures or the mass media coverage.
It was the ambition shown by the club to secure Bielsa for another year alongside four exciting first team players while filling up the youth squads with fantastic talents who could replenish areas of this Leeds team in the years to come.
There were many doubters upon Leeds’ promotion, and many of the doubters remain. Yet the transfer deadline has passed, and with the celebratory fish and chips long since digested, four new faces are set to challenge the old guard in the Premier League. That is what this window will be remembered for.
Top quality players plucked from European football now partner those who once finished 13th under Paul Heckingbottom, and have now risen far above what many saw their potential to be, under a world class manager.
With a great start to the season behind us, we now take the season game by game in what is a historic season in the history of Leeds United.