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Taking advantage of Phillips and Raphinha is no guarantee for a club like Leeds | Leeds United

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The good news for Leeds is that last season’s injury crisis means they have had plenty of practice playing without their stars. The bad news is that this time it’s permanent. Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha are on their way and suddenly, but not unpredictably, Leeds find themselves in the familiar position of a rising club seeing their greatest assets stripped away and in need of rebuilding. The inevitability of the pattern is one of the great sorrows of the financial structures of modern football.

Phillips is 26 years old. She was born in Leeds. He is a Leeds fan. He joined the quarry at the age of 14. He has played more than 200 league games for the club. But not even the blindest Leeds fan could realistically blame him for accepting an offer from Manchester City. He will earn much more money, play with one of the best coaches in history and compete for the most prestigious prizes. Leeds, in fact, can consider themselves lucky to have been able to retain him for so long.

Raphinha is 25 years old. At 19, he made the jump from Brazil to Portugal, moving from Vitória Guimarães to Sporting before moving on to Rennes, from where Leeds picked him up in 2020. For him, each club has been a step up the ladder. ; it is not a criticism to say that from the moment he arrived in Leeds he was looking for where he could go next. Assuming Chelsea is where he ends up, it’s a clear progression and perhaps even more important in a World Cup year as he looks to confirm his place in the Brazil side. Once again, this is modern football: no one has ever let anyone down or committed an act of treason.

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This is the problem of clubs below the elite level. Whether you develop your own players or hire up-and-coming talent from elsewhere, eventually someone richer comes along and takes them away (what Leeds did to Rennes is of course no different than what Chelsea and City are doing to them). ; as Blackadder observed to Baldrick: “That’s the way the world is…I’m upset and I kick the cat, the cat goes for the mouse, and finally the mouse bites your ass”).

Some clubs manage the transition better than others. Leeds owners have been outspoken about Leicester as a model, buying youngsters, then developing, selling and replenishing. It’s pretty much the only way to be if you’re not one of the elite; the mess at Everton shows what can happen to clubs that don’t accept their springboard status but try to compete by focusing on ready-made talent that have failed elsewhere; some experience may help, some bargains can be had, but as a general policy it is expensive and doomed to fail.

But it is brutally hard. The rich can afford mistakes. Manchester United have made nothing but mistakes over the last decade and yet they remain a perennial challenger in the top four. Chelsea can spend £100m on Romelu Lukaku and, when it goes wrong, sack him for a meager loan fee with no real consequence to their budget. Wealth offers isolation.

If a club like Leicester go for a slightly more expensive option and it goes wrong, the consequences would be dire: they may have to dump a player before he is at his peak value and before they have a replacement lined up; maybe then they can’t afford to replace a player they’ve planned to sell, and that has a ripple effect for seasons to come.

Leeds would probably have preferred to only move to one this summer and another next, but they should end up with around £110m as compensation. That represents an opportunity, but it is full of risks. Liverpool used the sale of Philippe Coutinho to finance the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, thus becoming the main beneficiary of Paris Saint-Germain’s world record transfer of Neymar from Barcelona. That Tottenham landed a young Christian Eriksen as part of their splurge after the sale of Gareth Bale was little consolation for the lack of impact of the other six signings.

Rasmus Kristensen playing for RB Salzburg
Rasmus Kristensen has reunited with Jesse Marsch after previously playing with him at RB Salzburg. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Just because Liverpool signed two top players, which worked, and Tottenham opted for seven, which didn’t, doesn’t mean a more general lesson can be drawn on how a windfall should be spent. Liverpool and Spurs were at different levels and at different points in their development.

Even if Leeds could find a couple of £50m talents willing to join, they would most likely leave in a year or two, putting them back in the same position they are in now. But the priority for Leeds surely isn’t just to strengthen their squad but to deepen it, to mitigate the kind of problems that blighted them amid last season’s injury crisis.

Attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson and right-back Rasmus Kristensen have already arrived from RB Salzburg for a combined fee of £41m. Aaronson was a long-term goal, while Kristensen played under Jesse Marsch at Salzburg for two years before the manager moved to RB Leipzig. Nothing is guaranteed when players move sticks, but both should fit the philosophy. Spanish midfielder Marc Roca, 25, has signed from Bayern for £10m; He may or may not work, but again he fits the model of a relatively cheap signing accustomed to a similar style of play with room for development.

Raphinha’s departure leaves an obvious lack of attack. 21-year-old Belgian striker Charles De Ketelaere has been linked with a move from Club Brugge and, after last season’s experience, it seems likely there could also be a move for another striker, ideally one who can play in the band.

It will all depend on the people, but the thinking behind the Leeds transfers looks promising. However, no firm is a guaranteed success; Leeds have been forced, as other clubs of their size usually do, to a series of bets. And that means that, through no fault of their own, they start the season amid uncertainty and under pressure.

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