Leeds United’s next centre-forward looks set to be signed from overseas after the Whites discovered how difficult it is recruiting a quality Premier League striker and staying within Championship rules.
They are determined to sign a new No 9 in January, and would like someone with a proven record in the second tier.
But they have been frustrated in their efforts to land Southampton’s Che Adams, West Bromwich Albion’s Dwight Gayle and Watford’s Andre Gray, with all three clubs reluctant to sell.
Even if they were willing, the only way Leeds could acquire them would be on a buy-to-loan basis where a deal would only become permanent if they were promoted in May. Such deals are more expensive than buying outright, but the Championship’s “profit and sustainability” rules put Premier League fringe players out of reach.
A third and “final” offer for Adams of a substantial loan fee, plus a £20m permanent summer deal, is understood to have been rejected.
The profit and sustainability regulations, the Football League’s equivalent of financial fair play, create a problem for those whose ability falls between the top division and second tier, given the financial gulf between the two.
Championship clubs are permitted to lose a maximum of £39m over a three-year period.
Adams scored 22 goals for Birmingham City last season, but has none in this season’s Premier League. Even so, Ralf Hasenhuttl would like to keep him. Gray has scored twice this term, Gayle has not found the net in the top flight for three-and-a-half years.
So far in January, Leeds have signed 18-year-old goalkeeper Elia Caprile from Chievo Verona and are confident of replacing winger Jack Clarke with Manchester City’s Ian Poveda. Tottenham Hotspur recalled Clarke from a season-long loan.
With Patrick Bamford their only senior specialist centre-forward, that is Leeds’s most pressing and problematic need.
Bielsa only wants players who meet his very specific requirements, providing the goalscoring ruthlessness which has stopped the Whites taking full advantage of their good football this season, but also with Bamford’s ability to link the play, which has been so fundamental to it.
Bielsa doubted Eddie Nketiah’s ability to do the second half of the job, and Arsenal recalled him halfway through a loan because of a lack of game time.
Sporting director Victor Orta is determined to recruit but his difficulties in the domestic market means there is likely to be more emphasis on overseas deals between now and the transfer deadline, at 11pm on January 31.
Leeds could do as others have and gamble on promotion, putting them out of the League’s jurisdiction into a far more lucrative competition with a less stringent attitude towards losses. However, given their financial meltdown of the early 21st Century, and after missing promotion last season despite arguably being the division’s best team, it is not a risk they are prepared to take, despite opposing the rules.
In charging Derby County, Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday with offences related to profit and sustainability – charges the clubs contest – the League has shown greater desire to give its regulations teeth.
The biggest problem is not the rules, but the massive financial disparity between England’s top two divisions which means Leeds’s only option is to borrow players, and go abroad to do so.