In the course of a day, the Whites’ transfer policy jumped up a level or two but it has been a two-pronged strategy, striving to add proven quality without losing sight of the future.
Rodrigo’s £27m signing from Valencia, accompanied by the £13m arrival of Robin Koch – Spain’s centre-forward and a Germany centre-back – was a sign Leeds mean business this season, but Joe Gelhardt, Cody Drameh, Sam Greenwood, Charlie Allen and Dani van den Heuvel show they are as determined to make their mark in seasons to come.
There are good reasons why Rio Ferdinand’s £18m move from West Ham United remained a milestone until Saturday. For the last 16 of the 19 following seasons Leeds were out of the top-flight, unable to spend its bounty.
Instability and short-termism characterised the wilderness years, with 17 changes of manager. The latest unpredictable incumbent renews his contract annually, building the suspense before putting pen to paper, yet there is something reassuringly stable about Marcelo Bielsa’s approach in an era where transfer records are fleeting and almost every side seems to roll out the excuse that it is “in transition”.
A club which twice changed leader after 44 days in the 1970s, when managers were still signed to last, whose history is built on drama, not dullness, is in danger of becoming a model of serenity. It will require a shift in mindsets.
If a new centre-forward was top of the shopping list he handed sporting director Victor Orta, there were plenty of more familiar names. Bielsa wanted to keep loanees Jack Harrison, Illan Meslier and Ben White, and only when denied the latter did Orta turn to the cheaper Koch.
Harrison’s is his third season-long loan from Manchester City, with the option to buy next summer. Eddie Nketiah was not halfway through his first and still to make a Championship start when Bielsa was talking about wanting another only for Arsenal to snatch him back early.
Bielsa values those who know him and his methods. Regardless of prices, Rodrigo and Koch will probably have to go through an assimilation. The Covid-19 lockdown stretched Ian Poveda’s wait for a Leeds debut to five months.
Playing in the Nations League over the next week could lead them to sitting in the Anfield stands a week on Saturday. Tyler Roberts got it right. His precautionary withdrawal from Wales’s squad increases rather than threatens his involvement.
Despite the widening financial gulf between England’s top two divisions, promoted clubs who tweak a tried-and-trusted formula increasingly fare better than those that rip it up and start again – contrast Sheffield United last season with Fulham in 2018-19.
Supporters expecting Leeds’s most expensive striker to explode with goals the minute he sets foot on the Elland Road pitch had better prepare for disappointment – Bielsa does not view No 9s in such black-and-white terms.
Rodrigo is an upgrade on Patrick Bamford, not a culture shift.
He made more goals than he scored for Valencia last season.
A £27m transfer fee buys you about half a Manchester City full-back nowadays, or in this case a striker who has only twice scored double-figure goals in ten senior campaigns.
Rodrigo spent most of his Valencia career at centre-forward, but also popping up on both wings and in the hole shows a rounded game, not a one-eyed poacher, just as a transfer policy featuring more teenagers than full internationals demonstrates a club thinking beyond where the next goal is coming from.
If they get it, great, but supporters cannot expect instant impacts from Rodrigo or Koch any more than the teenagers, and patience does not come easily to football fans desperate to see their team succeed.
On the weekend Leeds won the Championship, amidst giddy gossip of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, chief executive Angus Kinnear had a memorable conversation with one fan.
“He said we have a honeymoon period until half-time in the first game and if we’re not two up they’re not going to be happy again,” recalled Kinnear.
That the game is at Anfield, home of the champions and arguably Europe’s best team, might lessen expectations and playing behind closed doors could help. Leeds could have an extra 15 minutes to score their second.
Passion drives some clubs beyond the mundane, and impatience is a by-product. In the space of a day, Leeds racheted things up, yet supporters might have to rein it in just a touch.
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