The Argentinian is famous for his perfectionism and eye for detail, with stories about his demands to change the tiniest details of training grounds legendary. Understanding they have a world-renowned talent, Leeds’s standard response has been to bend over backwards to his every demand. Having taken them back to the Premier League after 16 years away on the back of some outstanding football, the sacrifices seemed well worth it.
“Everything we needed, we received,” said Bielsa after Leeds won the Championship.
One thing the Whites were unable to provide was the centre-forward Bielsa wanted after losing Kemar Roofe to Anderlecht last summer.
His departure left Patrick Bamford as the great White hope, a forward with a good Championship pedigree, but one who had never hit the 20-goal mark. Valuing Bamford’s all-round contribution, Bielsa was happy to have him leading the line, even if some Leeds supporters are still not wholly convinced. Bamford played in every league game bar one last season – the barmy 5-4 win at Birmingham City – but what if injury had intervened?
Bielsa was insistent he would go with what he had, with midfielder Tyler Roberts a back-up option, if the club could not find a striker that ticked his boxes but for their own piece of mind as much as anything, the hierarchy wanted an insurance policy.
They loaned Eddie Nketiah but despite five goals as a substitute or League Cup starter, he was only entrusted with two Championship starts either side of new year before being recalled by Arsenal. The England Under-21 international was good enough to start nine games for the Gunners last season and score four goals, but not to be a Championship regular for Bielsa.
So after a career yet to live up to its youthful promise, it should be no surprise that his replacement, Augustin, failed to meet the coach’s exacting standards.
Leeds turned to Augustin when their targets with proven Championship goalscoring records were priced out of their financial fair play-imposed bracket.
Bielsa is relentless in his physical demands and when Leeds returned from the coronavirus lockdown, Augustin was working through a personal fitness programme. His Leeds career has not extended beyond 48 minutes in three substitute appearances. They extended Helder Costa, Ben White, Jack Harrison and Illan Meslier’s loans beyond the end of June, but not Augustin’s.
There could be more to come.
The loan came with a £20m obligation to buy if Leeds were promoted.
Whatever their misgivings, the Whites would do well to take their obligation seriously if RB Leipzig try to hold them to it.
In 2015 a Premier League club tried to wriggle out of their obligation to buy a loanee they had gone cold on, and ended up paying around twice as much as they were supposed to.
In 2014-15, Sunderland took winger Ricardo Alvarez from Inter Milan on a season-long loan, with an agreement to make the deal permanent for €10.5m if they avoided relegation.
They did, but had misgivings about the condition of the Argentinian’s knees.
With neither Inter nor Sunderland wanting him back, Alvarez was eventually made a free agent, allowed to join Sampdoria while the clubs haggled, and the Black Cats ended up paying the full amount and almost as much again for the player to pursue his career elsewhere.
Alvarez joined with a history of chronic patellar tendonitis in his left knee, and Sunderland were able to pull out if the problem “accelerated” to the point where he could no longer perform in the Premier League. There was no such clause relating to his right knee, which he injured in the third of 17 appearances which yielded just one goal.
Alvarez underwent surgery and when the season ended Inter and Sunderland debated whether he should do so again. The Italian club blocked it.
Sunderland argued the problem was an indirect consequence of the issue in Alvarez’s left knee, took the case to FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee, and lost in July 2015.
They went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and lost two years later, ordered to pay the full amount.
CAS also decided Sunderland owed £335,000 to Alvarez’s first club, Velez Sarsfield, in solidarity payments.
With Alvarez suing for loss of earnings for his half-season in limbo before being allowed to join Sampdoria, plus legal fees, the final bill was nearer £20m.
Transfer mistakes happen. If Leeds are even slightly tempted to try to argue a way out of the agreement, history tells them they would be well advised to swallow the cost and try to make what they can out of Augustin.
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