Less than five weeks since the final episode in the great escape and Leeds fans are having to draw breath again. As each of the leading lights in a squad which scraped survival in the Premier League last season plots their way out, the outlook looks more grim than ever.
The legacy of cult hero former manager Marcelo Bielsa is a downward spiral threatening to send one of this country’s biggest clubs back into oblivion next year.
Bielsa remains a hero to the fans for his attacking philosophy on the beautiful game. The man who considered defending an added luxury, like whipped cream on hot chocolate, has certainly left his mark.
- Chelsea make £55m move for Raphinha
- Man City and Leeds agree £42m fee for Kalvin Phillips
- Betfred offer 9/4 on Leeds relegation in 2023*
It is admirable that some of the most passionate and loyal supporters in the world still treasure the memories of the win-or-bust football that became the Leeds trademark under the cavalier Argentine. But while the campaign gathers steam to erect a statue of the Latin American cult hero outside Elland Road, inside there is a sense of foreboding.
For the price of staying up by the skin of your teeth is that any player with half an ounce of ability starts getting twitchy about the same thing happening again and slowly they start shipping out.
First Kalvin Phillips and now Raphinha looks on his way, whether it be to his preferred destination of Barcelona or Chelsea, who at one stage this week thought they had a £55 million deal for the Brazilian forward in place.
The best midfielder is gone and the arch-creator is going. The domino effect could soon kick in and, before you know it, Leeds will resemble the main deck of the Marie Celeste.
Raphinha was the club’s top scorer last season, albeit with only 11 goals. And that was from mostly wide positions. Patrick Bamford’s struggles with injury restricted his performance in front of goal but he remains Leeds’ most potent direct force in the box. As he harbours hopes of a return to full fitness and ultimately the England squad, quite what he will think of the trickling stream of talent heading for the exit door is worrying for Leeds fans to even contemplate.
Leeds stayed up by three points last season. But their goal difference was much worse than that of Burnley who went down in their place. Eighteen goals worse to be precise.
That statistic alone screams out that the man trying to take over from a cult hero and introduce some defensive discipline at Leeds, Jesse Marsch, needs to source at least one top class centre-back this summer. The new season is just five weeks off and it’s the most pressing issue at a club which belongs in the Premier League.
No disrespect, but the purchases of £11m right back Rasmus Kristensen, £10m midfielder Marc Roca Junque and £24m American winger Brenden Aaronson are welcome but it won’t make Leeds fans feel any more secure about their team’s status in the top tier of our game. All three are new to the Premier League and it’s not often players settle as quickly in English football as Raphinha did.
The sale of Phillips to Manchester City will rake in a minimum £42m. If and when Raphinha goes as expected, that is £55m in the bank. Even my rudimentary maths works out that Leeds are currently £52m in the black. That’s easily enough for a quality centre-half, with change, to get out and shore up the back line.
Luke Ayling and Liam Cooper need help. Bielsa’s swashbuckling philosophy made for entertaining football and gave Leeds a good name as one of the most appealing sides in the division. It all depends what you want out of football, of course.
Seven goals a week with four going to the opposition might be your thing and fair enough. But it’s a dangerous game. Marsch is now tasked with the job of trying to combine the demand for samba soccer in Yorkshire with a touch of northern grit to keep Leeds up.
Football’s equivalent of levelling up. And we all know how that is going.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change