Spain’s main club Sevilla have been Monchi’s domain for longer than the average lifespan of a football executive, and when thinking about Leeds United’s recruitment methods, it’s always worth remembering that their sporting director, Victor Orta, cut his teeth under the man also nicknamed El Lobo de Sevilla — the wolf of Seville.
Orta left Seville nine years ago, but he talks about Monchi – Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, to use his full name – the way Catholics talk about the Pope; as the Godfather of Scouting and the brightest mind he will ever work for.
Sevilla surrendered to the mastermind of Monchi 20 years ago, and it’s to them that so many others have sought secrets and knowledge: they have a proven technique for buying players low, selling high… and winning trophies time and time again.
The club had a certain way with transfers, and following Monchi’s plan their message to potential signings was that it wasn’t ‘it’ for them career-wise – joining Sevilla wasn’t the pinnacle of the market transfers and they weren’t arrogant enough to think so. Players thrived there and moved on, usually for healthy resale prices and to bigger clubs.
Sevilla were comfortable with this reality, not least because they were attracting top-caliber talent and the Europa League trophy kept landing in their lap. Over the past two decades, they have won UEFA’s No.2 club competition six times, including consecutively in 2006 and 2007, and three times in a row from 2014.
One of the deals that stayed with Orta was Seydou Keita arrived from French club Lens in the summer of 2007. A year was enough for Barcelona to buy him and Sevilla made a quick profit of 10 million pounds ($11.8 million).
Leeds and Orta tried to use Sevilla’s tried ground when they spoke to Charles De Ketelaere in the summer, trying to convince the 21-year-old Club Brugge midfielder to move to Elland Road by painting the picture overall.
De Ketelaere was so good, or so well regarded, that he had visions of himself at the top of the game – so Leeds took that idea and ran with it. Make waves with us, kid, and more opportunities will come, they told him. Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha had taken stock for them in the summer with their moves to Manchester City and Barcelona respectively.
In the end, De Ketelaere opted to go straight to AC Milan but Leeds still believe that had it not been for the new Serie A title champions in the ring, the Belgian would have chosen them.
Phillips leaving for Premier League champions City and, perhaps to a greater extent, Raphinha moving to Camp Nou gave Leeds the appearance of a stepping stone club.
It’s a model the Elland Road board is happy to ride with for now, and how this strategy is viewed, positively or negatively, depends on what aspect people are focusing on.
Obviously, Phillips and Raphinha were the two best players at the club and they left within weeks of each other. But their combined transfer fee is not far off at £100m and as far as Raphinha is concerned, he went from unglamorous Rennes in France to Barcelona – albeit a chaotic version of them – in less than two seasons. . The Brazilian’s progress was a showcase for a credible attempt at De Ketelaere, and the money was there to strengthen the team.
Leeds had gone through two previous Premier League years without selling anyone of note, but 2022 was a summer when the motivation to cash in players was, predictably, higher. Their dressing room needed a makeover and that makeover needed funds.
While Phillips’ exit was driven more by his desire to join City than his hometown club’s need to generate cash, it helped grease the wheels of five key signings: Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Marc Roca , Rasmus Kristensen and Luis Sinisterra.
And the profiles of the targets Leeds have moved for in this window suggest a renewed commitment to signing players before their prime and for a fee that doesn’t count the possibility of making a future profit selling them.
Kristensen and Roca are the oldest of the five newcomers at 25. Aaronson, the youngest, is only 21 years old. They’re old enough to make a splash now but too young to be sure they’ll be here for life or throughout their peak years.
It is obvious that the transfer strategy at Leeds has been developed to meet the needs of head coach Jesse Marsch, matching the characteristics of his tactics, but the club is bound to a model in which potential growth trumps fully developed signatures. Leeds got as close to the latter as they could get by paying Valencia £27m for a then-29-year-old Rodrigo in the summer of 2020, but they went through three Premier League summer windows without signing a player from field of more than this age – a cut that is not fortuitous.
“It’s a phase of the club,” said Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani. Athleticism a few weeks ago, conceding the sale of top assets had the potential to grumble the fanbase. His argument is that stronger holding powers will only come through business growth.
Across the Premier League there is plenty of evidence of clubs assessing where a particular sell strengthens or weakens their hand and trying to spot the difference.
Leeds first-choice keeper Illan Meslier, for example, was banned completely this summer.
With Phillips and Raphinha gone, the 22-year-old Frenchman is now the easiest route to a big profit in the transfer market, but parting ways with these two didn’t mean the club were open to selling everyone. It was agreed early in the summer that Meslier would stay for at least another year.
Meslier doesn’t have to look far to find clubs that are his fans. Tottenham Hotspur are particularly keen and need a succession plan for current goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who turns 36 in December.
Leeds appreciate that Meslier, if he proves as good as he promises, could one day overtake them, but they have been able to create an environment in which he feels the impact of progress. He plays every week and the club haven’t done anything in the transfer market to threaten his place in their squad.
Signed at 20 from home Lorient, Meslier has been able to make mistakes and experience learning curves without losing confidence, and this season the foundations of his game look stronger than ever. We talk about him as a young goalkeeper would like to be talked about, as someone to watch. And he can’t ignore the possibility of him getting the call from defending champions France to back Lloris at this winter’s World Cup.
The looming World Cup is particularly relevant to Leeds, although it is impossible to predict exactly how many of their players will be chosen to take part.
This uncertainty is good for Marsch, as it is a source of motivation for the players to maintain solid club form.
Rodrigo has scored four goals in the first three games of the season and no one at Leeds doubts a place in the Spanish squad is in their sights.
Jack Harrison is trying to woo Gareth Southgate and his getting the nod to go to a World Cup with England fuels the argument that coming to Leeds can open doors – in four years he’s gone from From a Manchester City tenant who may not get a league game at Middlesbrough to a potential international, Elland Road’s top brass value at over £40m.
Newcastle’s attempts to sign Harrison have hit a brick wall, with the Geordies fully understanding the price that has been placed on the 25-year-old winger. Leeds will soon be under pressure to extend and improve his contract, but that in itself is a carrot: increased stock and increased wages at a club where things are going for him.
Aaronson, Adams, Robin Koch, Diego Llorente, Patrick Bamford, Mateusz Klich, Dan James and others; this World Cup is there for everyone, to greater or lesser degrees, and that can’t be a bad thing to keep Marsch’s team at full strength.
One thing that can be said about this summer for Leeds is that it has felt like a substantial reset.
Transfer deals at Elland Road can swing from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Jean-Kevin Augustin’s abject waste of time to Raphinha, Meslier and, for a purchase price of £11million, a player whose value s appreciate to Harrison.
Radrizzani admitted that in the two years since their long-awaited promotion to the top flight, Leeds’ recruitment hasn’t caused enough fireworks. Not enough players they brought in had lit a fire in the Premier League and his only caveat was that judgment would have to be given over three to five years, depending on whether Leeds had grown as a club during that time.
The tolerance of the model will also be dictated by Leeds buying and selling on their terms.
Selling players is less political or controversial when their replacements are promising.
When Adams plays like he did against Chelsea on Sunday, it’s easier to think of Phillips as a good little earner. When Aaronson is playing like he did in that same game against the reigning world champions, it’s easier to think that the tight line of No.10s behind Marsch’s centre-forward isn’t a system. which necessarily needs Raphinha to function.
The element of change becomes appealing rather than depressing and the truth about Leeds’ five key signings is that they all made sense. Sinisterra’s full debut in the Carabao Cup win over League One neighbors Barnsley on Wednesday was another good start.
When Monchi talks about Sevilla and his recruiting experience, he often talks about the value of learning from mistakes.
Leeds have been dogged by their reluctance to sign a new striker or another left-back and, if the final week of this window passes quietly for them, their first-half results will show if they knew what they were doing. ; whether waiting at those positions were errors or fair calls based on the resources they already have.
This is, in microcosm, the club’s transfer policy today: avoiding bets that are firmly at odds, setting limits and controlling individual fees, accepting that some players are worth having even if they don’t just pass and establish proven development patterns that make those players want to pass in the first place.
This is the stepping stone era in Leeds, where bigger dreams are allowed to grow and life exists outside the four walls of Elland Road.
Part of the reason Phillips was allowed to move on was because the club had no credible answer telling him City were such a big move he would never get. He was adamant and he was right.
It’s football today, and it’s tempting to say that this transfer window has re-aligned Leeds as a selling club, a phrase that usually carries derisory connotations. But as Monchi once said, how many clubs don’t sell clubs? And why can’t this policy work?
(Top photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)