Less than three weeks into their summer and Leeds United can already hear next season calling. One new signing done, another on the way and the 2022-23 Premier League fixtures being released next Thursday.
We opened up an Elland Road mailbag for your questions about what lies in store for Leeds after their final-day escape from relegation and the stress of the past 12 months. Here are our answers to the best of them…
Is the Rasmus Kristensen deal as good as done? How likely is signing Lewis O’Brien? (Matthew K)
The Rasmus Kristensen transfer from Red Bull Salzburg is well on the way to being finalised. Terms are agreed and Leeds hope to put him through a medical this week, allowing them to wrap the deal up. It’s been something of a turnaround because it looked until very recently as if Borussia Dortmund would get the Danish right-back. People close to negotiations thought a move to Dortmund was well down the line but Leeds managed to make their pitch in a way that got them into the running late on.
As for Huddersfield’s O’Brien, the club do want a central midfielder but from what we’re hearing, they’re focusing on other targets. It’s not that they don’t like O’Brien but, when push comes to shove, his window of opportunity for moving to Elland Road was probably last summer. I’ve mentioned a few times that Manchester United’s James Garner is someone Leeds have thought about after seeing him help Nottingham Forest win Premier League promotion last season, although, again, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them go for someone with more experience or proven pedigree.
Any news on the pursuit of a striker? (Andrew H)
The forward Leeds wanted as the season drew to a close was Eddie Nketiah. They were quietly optimistic that if former Leeds loanee Nketiah turned down a new contract at Arsenal, he would have been willing to return to Elland Road permanently. But it’s been a back-and-forward process at the Emirates and despite indications at various junctures that Nketiah was minded to leave Arsenal, he’s opted to take a new long-term deal there.
Where Leeds turn next remains to be seen because much of the transfer work up until now has focused on Brenden Aaronson and Kristensen. But the approach to Nketiah indicates that they do want another centre-forward on the books.
Are any under-23s looking likely to break through to the first team next season? (Luke W)
The most prominent under-23s are likely to be those who were most involved this season — Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood, Charlie Cresswell, Lewis Bate, Crysencio Summerville. At the same time, Leeds will have to think seriously about whether any of that group would benefit more from heading out on loan for a year or six months playing regularly elsewhere, rather than sitting on their bench.
What you can expect to see are more additions to the academy ranks. We reported last week that Leeds want midfielders George Hall and Sonny Perkins from Birmingham City and West Ham. They are also on the trail of at least one other young prospect who plays in England and it’s clear that they’re not bending on their policy of recruiting at youth-team level. If anything, that policy is intensifying.
Do you think we’re likely to see a lot of outgoings this summer, Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha aside? I have full faith that we’ll make another four to five signings, but also hope we don’t lose players and lack squad depth again. (Matt G)
I’m speculating a little here because a lot of Leeds’ work so far has been based on incomings.
I wonder about Rodrigo. Signing him just hasn’t worked as a £27 million purchase should. That said, Jesse Marsch made the effort to involve him very heavily on and off the pitch in the final couple of months of last season so that one is up in the air. I’m also wondering how or if Mateusz Klich fits into the sort of system Marsch seems to favour. Quite a few of Klich’s appearances under Marsch have come in a deep-lying midfield role, and that’s not where he thrives.
In a broader sense, though, Leeds have to think more about arrivals than departures for now.
One of the big problems last season was that the squad wasn’t good enough. Building it up is the priority.
Any word on who the new under-23s manager will be? Will Marsch get one of his men in? (Ellie R)
That’s still being discussed. Loans manager Andrew Taylor finished the season as under-23s boss but is reverting to his original role and, at present, the development squad job is vacant.
Leeds might recruit externally but it’s not out of the question that Mark Jackson will step back into that position. He’s been operating at first-team level since Marsch arrived in February, but the American’s backroom team will see changes this summer.
Countryman Chris Armas, who was No 2 to Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United, is set to come in as Marsch’s new assistant after having that role under him at New York Red Bulls in MLS.
It’s not certain yet what that means for Marsch’s current assistant, Frankie Schiemer, but there is going to be a reshuffle of sorts.
Everything has its life cycle. Any suggestions that Victor Orta will move on/be replaced? (Paul C)
None at all. He’s been doing the Aaronson and Kristensen deals and, as before, he’s leading Leeds’ recruitment operation for the summer transfer window.
For the club’s board, it’s going to be essential to show that the penny has dropped about what went wrong last season. There’ll also be an expectation on the terraces that Leeds are far better prepared for year three in the Premier League than they were for year two.
Aaronson and Kristensen are good starts. They look like talented players.
Are we close to a resolution in the Jean-Kevin Augustin case, and how are they accounting for that money in terms of signings this summer? (Ryan P)
The Augustin case is still in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The case between Leeds and RB Leipzig was heard by CAS in March but there’s no definitive verdict yet.
As for funding any bill, if Leeds lose the case, they’ll have no choice but to pick up the tab. They might well be able to meet any costs in instalments, though, mitigating any impact on immediate business — which of course isn’t to deny that it threatens to be an expensive outlay for a player who contributed next to nothing during his loan here.
As signings go, that one has been a disaster.
When is the stadium redevelopment expected to start? Also, thoughts on a potential sale to the San Francisco 49ers? Will both happen in the near future? (Rob W)
Plenty of people asked about 49ers Enterprises and where Leeds go next in terms of the possibility of a full buy-out of Andrea Radrizzani.
It would be useful to hear from the 49ers. As we know, the NFL franchise have an option to acquire control of Leeds but the club have just had a very close brush with relegation and it’s been a while since anything was said about additional uptakes of equity. The 49ers are still very much in the picture — officials from 49ers Enterprises were at the Brighton game in May — but we’ve had no indication a buy-out is imminent.
As for the stadium, those plans are still on the table but the bottom line with any redevelopment project is funding. The money has to be in place before Leeds can proceed and the project won’t be cheap.
On a scale of one to 10, how absolutely shitting it were you at the prospect of having to travel to Cardiff on a Tuesday night again? You must have been personally delighted we stayed up. (James B)
As I came out of Brentford’s ground that Sunday night a couple of weeks ago, I said to a colleague, “When those first midweek Championship fixtures take place in August, we’ll all be saying a little prayer of thanks to whichever God we worship.”
I’ve done a lot of Championship football.
My appetite for more was, y’know, somewhat limited.
Raphinha’s valuation has got to be £60 million minimum, right? (Lewis H)
I’d be very surprised if Leeds allowed Raphinha’s asking price to drop below that figure. First, because it seems to me to be fair market value given his talent. And second, because they would need the money to target the player, or players, they want if Raphinha moves on.
It’s quite a hard situation to call.
My gut feeling has always been that he’ll leave in this window. But as we wrote on Friday, for all the noise from Barcelona, it’s not easy for them to sign him. They are facing severe financial restrictions.
If we don’t manage to get Barcelona to meet our valuation for Raphinha, is there a chance he stays and potentially signs a new contract with a release clause? Or has that ship completely sailed? (Matthew H)
There’s the scenario where somebody other than Barcelona buy him — he’s an attractive proposition for a lot of clubs. But in reality, if the bidding doesn’t get going, he’s under contract at Leeds and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that he’s here again next season. It seems unlikely, but we’ll see.
As for a new contract, that’s gone very cold since the early part of the year. If he was to have a barnstorming World Cup in November and December, say, he might attract all sorts of interest in January. It’s doubtless in his interests to be tied down for as little time as possible.
I have a couple of questions about the players who were out on loan last season: Ian Poveda, Leif Davis, Cody Drameh, Helder Costa et cetera. How did they fare? Are they good enough to compete for a place in our XI? And what are their likely prospects — recall/sell/loan again? (Noah K)
Drameh had a very good loan with Cardiff but the expected arrival of Kristensen doesn’t suggest he’ll get too much of a look-in back at Leeds next season. Costa had a very underwhelming loan at Valencia, as did Leif Davis to Bournemouth and Kiko Casilla with Elche. It’s hard to see how they fit under Marsch.
You’ll have read that Poveda broke an ankle in November while with Blackburn. He’s back to full fitness now. Of the fringe crowd, he seems as likely as anyone to get another chance with Leeds.
Is there any appetite for bringing James Milner home? (Andy S)
Even if there was, Milner has now signed a new contract at Liverpool. But he looks like he’ll still be good enough for the Premier League at 65 never mind 36, so there’s ample time yet.
Is the plan for the club to remain at Thorp Arch until the lease expires? I know the new development plans were shelved but is there any sign of movement on this? (Henry F)
I see Leeds being at Thorp Arch for the time being. The plans for a new city-centre training ground haven’t come to anything and under Marcelo Bielsa, the club spent plenty of money improving Thorp Arch.
The property is still in the hands of a private landlord and the lease runs until the latter stages of this decade but the thing to remember with Thorp Arch is that turning it into something else — ie, housing — won’t be easy. So perhaps there’s an agreement to be reached about extending Leeds’ occupancy of it, assuming that is necessary.
Do you think Illan Meslier’s position as the clear first-choice goalkeeper could slip if we get an experienced option in? We love him, but Meslier wasn’t flawless last season. (David H)
No, Meslier wasn’t flawless but I think it’s absolutely the right decision to continue pushing him as the No 1.
There is a discussion going on at Leeds at the moment about what to do with their goalkeeping ranks. They’re tempted to bring in a more experienced No 2, someone to sit behind Meslier and ahead of 21-year-old Kristoffer Klaesson. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Can you estimate the Sliding Doors revenue difference from another season in the Premier League for 2022-23 versus returning to the Championship, from TV revenue to estimated player fees? And how about how this values the club? (Lawson K)
Here’s the best way to answer that. Championship income from 2019-20? £54 million. Premier League income from 2020-21? £171 million.
The difference is massive and needless to say, relegation would have had a knock-on effect on things like the value of players and the value of the club. Raphinha, for example, had a relegation buy-out clause in his contract worth well below the £60 million-plus Leeds would like for him.
And the club itself? In no way would Leeds be worth half-a-billion pounds in the Championship.
How are the feet holding up after the walk, Phil? Are you one of the lucky ones to fully bounce back? (Joe B)
(For those of you that don’t know, I just walked 92 miles from Gary Speed’s first pitch in north Wales to Elland Road with the lads from The Square Ball.)
The feet look like something out of Aliens but, given the state of the WhatsApp group, I’d say I got away fairly lightly with those 92 miles — we’ve had hospitalisations, the lot.
Thanks to everyone who donated money to the Gary Speed charity walk. It’s been very much appreciated.
I can honestly say that when I reflect on the experience, I’ve never simultaneously loved and hated something so much. The best of times and the worst of times.
(Top photo: Getty Images)