The transfer deadline is looming and Leeds United believe their core funds have been ticked. Left-back and striker were their priorities in January, and after a fashion, both arrived. All that remains with time running out is the biannual question of whether the club has something else up its sleeve.
Yet fashion is another way of saying that none of the players signed by Leeds, Max Weber and Georginio Rutter can be accurately categorized. Whooper is a centre-back as well as a left-back and Rutter has the ability to occupy wider attacking positions in addition to the central lane, but with his purchase, the club covered the areas they had planned. With 40 million pounds ($49.4 million) allocated to these two signings combined, Leeds expect the difference they will make to be swift and tangible.
Throughout the month, there was a lingering suggestion that another player was in the making, and a midfielder in particular. Leeds encouraged that conversation to release Matthews Klitsch and let him go to D.C. United, but at least two options have been linked to Leeds, Juventus’ Ezzedine Unahi and Weston McKinney, two players known for their presence. monitored in previous windows. Both are interesting and one would be welcome on Elland Road, provided the price is right.
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Onahi’s value has changed significantly in the past few months, which may explain why Leeds’ director of football Victor Orta said in an interview with Spanish media before Christmas that the 22-year-old’s impressive performance for Morocco at the World Cup was remarkable. A surprise to many in recruitment circles, not the least. Onahe was good, but the tournament in Qatar took a while to indicate that he was that Hassan. While Angers were talking about a fee of around £10m in the summer window, the price will now be closer to £20m, if not a bit higher. Faced with this assessment, Leeds have yet to advance talks with Angers or the Onahe camp to an advanced stage.
McKinney, 24, is also someone Leeds have looked up to over the years. They considered trying to sign him while his star was rising at Schalke 04 in Germany, although Juventus took him on in 2020, initially on loan, then as part of a permanent £15m package. McKinney has made 70 appearances in Serie A and has additional experience in the Champions League, appearing this season in a team that relies on possession and is patient in his play, and is very different in style from Jesse Marsh’s team at Leeds. He can play a part part role or play deeper in midfield and, like Onahe, Leeds see ways he can move into their line-up.
Signing McKinney will be the third time in just over seven months that Leeds have spent heavily recruiting a regular member of the US men’s national team, after investing £20m each in Brendan Aronson and Tyler Adams. Although a far cry from the picture at Juventus, the Italian club is in poor shape, emerging from an investigation into alleged financial irregularities that had consequences for the club’s former executives and a sporting sanction in the form of a 15-point deduction in Serie A.
Juventus will be looking to bounce back now, and the noise around McKinney suggests cutting him off the wage bill and drawing him a fee suits ownership in Turin. Leeds are still, at this point, skeptical about Juventus agreeing to a price they can afford, with Juventus pricing him at over £20m. A loan with a commitment to make the move permanent when the season is over would be one way of making the move more affordable.
However, personal terms wouldn’t be much of a hurdle, and Leeds don’t rule out neither Onahey nor McKinney, knowing that the final week of the window is a time when circumstances often change quickly. But with less than a week before the deadline, they are some distance away from meeting either Angers or Juventus’ valuation, and interest in the pair is likely to remain dormant until a future window. Leeds are more confident about another deal in the pipeline, an offer for Diogo Monteiro, a young Portuguese centre-back in Servette, Switzerland who is about to turn 18, but a fresh and proven midfielder is more than a moving feast.
Much of this depends on the money and the manner in which transfer financing is obtained in Leeds. The club is in the middle of a process that should end up with control of the board moving from current majority shareholder Andrea Radrizzani to 49ers Enterprises, and each signing at Elland Road is preceded by discussions about who pays the initial premium and what future regulated payments will look like. An agreement has been reached at executive level on the £10m purchase of Wober from Red Bull Salzburg and a record-breaking transfer deal for Rutter could eventually earn Hoffenheim £35m. In order to fund Ounahi or McKennie, another injection will be required — unless, as was the case last summer when Calvin Phillips and Rafinha moved on, the money will be raised by selling a member of the existing squad.
Earlier this week, Leicester City gained interest in Jack Harrison and it isn’t the first time they have been linked with the winger. Leeds had contacted him over the summer but were so resistant to losing him that they put a value of over £30m on him.
Harrison, though, is 18 months away from the end of his deal and has yet to sign an extension. Leeds would prefer to tie him up on a new deal and keep him for the long term, with talks planned for after the end of the window. On Leicester’s admiration for him, there is resistance at Elland Road to the idea of letting him join a club around them in the lower reaches of the Premier League. Newcastle United were one of the two sides they looked at in August, and if their current work on a deal for Anthony Gordon doesn’t go anywhere, there’s a chance Eddie Howe could renew his interest in Harrison.
Overall, the squad at Elland Road has changed dramatically since the end of last season, to the point where nearly half of Marsh’s squad against Brentford on Sunday was made up of new signings completed after they ended.
A midfielder like Ounahi or McKennie at the helm of Wober and Rutter would make this window another moment of wide change, although Leeds feel their most necessary work has been completed.
It might be January at Elland Road. But never say never as the deadline approaches.
(Top photo: Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)