New money puts Leeds in running for Max Gradel return

Max Gradel
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LEEDS UNITED are in talks with St Etienne over a possible return for Max Gradel, the Yorkshire Post understands.

The 26-year-old, a popular figure during a near two-year stay at Elland Road, has been on the transfer radar of Brian McDermott for several weeks.

United’s manager is a big fan of Gradel and he has been told the planned buyout of a 75 per cent shareholding in the club by current managing director David Haigh is likely to release sufficient transfer funds to make a concerted move for the Ivory Coast international.

With that in mind, Leeds have opened talks with St Etienne over a possible return for their former Player of the Year.

It is not the first time the Yorkshire club has been interested in bringing Gradel back. The most recent came at the start of 2013 but Leeds got no further than an initial enquiry about a possible loan move.

St Etienne were not keen and the interest soon fizzled out. Gradel also later admitted that while a return to United was something he fancied in the future, he was committed to helping the French club reach the Champions League.

Now, though, United plan to test that resolve with a concrete bid for a player who has 18 months to run on a reputed £20,000 per week wage with St Etienne.

McDermott has felt for sometime that his squad lacks width and pace. Repeated attempts have been made to try and change that since the summer but none have come to fruition.

The capture of Gradel, who netted 25 goals in 84 appearances at Leeds, would solve those deficiencies at a stroke, hence why the United manager is so keen to push a deal through.

Those attempts, though, hinge on the prospective new owners of the club completing a deal to acquire a 75 per cent stake.

GFH Capital, the Dubai-based firm that bought United from Ken Bates on December 21 last year, has accepted an offer from the consortium, which is led by Haigh and features several high-profile businessmen.

It was revealed last week that a share acquisition agreement between the group - which the Yorkshire Post understands includes Andrew Flowers, the managing director of current shirt sponsors Enterprise Insurance - and GFH Capital had been signed.

The next hurdle for the Haigh-led takeover to overcome is securing approval from the Football League for a second change of ownership in as many seasons.

This is not expected to be a problem and sources close to the group hope everything can be concluded early in the New Year.

Under the terms of the deal, GFH Capital will retain a minority stake. Chairman Salah Nooruddin, who along with GFHC and Bahrain’s International Investment Bank is United’s current other major shareholder, will remain involved.

Providing nothing happens to de-rail the Haigh-led takeover, United will then be able to step up their interest in Gradel.

Such a move is bound to be popular with supporters, who voted the Ivorian as the club’s Player of the Year in 2010-11.

That was United’s first back in the Championship after three years in League One when only a late collapse in form denied Simon Grayson’s side a play-off place as they finished seventh.

Leeds scored 81 goals that season, a tally beaten only by Norwich City, and Gradel was a big part of their attacking threat.

He netted 18 times to finish as second highest scorer behind Luciano Becchio. He also created countless other chances as a key attacking prong in a 4-2-3-1 formation that also featured Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass in advanced positions.

Gradel was arguably Grayson’s best signing as Leeds manager. Initially brought in on loan from Leicester City during what proved to be United’s promotion season, Gradel joined on a permanent £200,000 deal in January, 2010.

He featured prominently during the run-in, though then blotted his copybook by being sent off in the final day promotion decider at home to Bristol Rovers.

Much to Gradel’s relief, Leeds won 2-1 in his absence and that set the stage for the outstanding campaign that ended with him being crowned Player of the Year.

He joined Saint Etienne for £2m shortly before the end of the summer transfer window in 2011 after Leeds decided to cash in on a player who was in the final year of his contract.

Should Leeds be successful in their quest to bring Gradel back to Elland Road, McDermott would be looking for the wideman to supply the ammunition for a frontline that has overcome a slow start to hit the goal trail in recent weeks.

Ross McCormack leads the way with 17 goals in all competitions, the highest total by any Championship player. Matt Smith also has seven goals to his name, two of which have come in United’s last two games to earn high praise from his manager.

On the striker who joined in the summer on a free transfer from Oldham Athletic, McDermott said: “Matt Smith, as a player he is young in terms of his football. But I just think he is getting better all the time. There was one move in the first half (in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Doncaster Rovers) which I just felt was terrific centre-forward play.

“He popped it out to Ross and then got into the box to meet the cross with a header. He is not just a player who can head it. He brings people into the game and he is getting better all the time.

“He is starting a run of games now and he is exactly where we want him to be. He is scoring his goals, he is a very good player and he wants to get better, as do all the lads.”

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk