How much of an impact will the departure of Elland Road’s player of the year have on the Yorkshire club?
As the transfer window slammed shut last Wednesday, the gloomy writing was on the wall for all Leeds United fans to see. Three players out and none coming in. It seemed an alarmingly unbalanced equation. And while fringe players Mike Grella and Fede Bessone’s exits caused little in terms of transfer deadline trauma, the departure of Max Gradel was much more of a shock to the system. The fiery winger has left a noticeable vacuum on the left side of the Leeds midfield, and his departure has not yet been addressed in terms of bringing in a suitable replacement.
Max Gradel’s four-year stay in English football has been an eventful one, both for the player himself and the clubs he has represented. Originally a Leicester City youth academy product, Gradel had loan stints at Bournemouth during the 2007-08 season which reaped nine goals in 34 appearances, enough of a return to convince Leicester City to offer him a three-year contract.
The following season he helped the club to promotion back to the Championship from League One at the first attempt. His impact was most noticeable in the dying seconds of Leicester’s away game at MK Dons, when his screamer of a free-kick salvaged a valuable point.
Gradel became an instant hit with the Leeds faithful, when arriving from Leicester on loan in October 2009. His trickery and confidence on the left won the affections of many fans. His late strike against Leyton Orient on a cold November night only emphasised his value to Leeds, as the club finally escaped League One’s stranglehold at the third attempt.
But it nearly went horribly wrong for Gradel on the final day of that season. With Leeds needing a win to secure promotion, the player was sent off early for violent conduct and refused to leave the pitch. The eventual promotion spared his blushes and saved his Elland Road career. The 18 goals scored last season proved how valuable an asset he was, helping the club to a comfortable first season back in the Championship.
The Ivory Coast international’s sudden departure looks to have left Leeds considerably shortchanged, and manager Simon Grayson needs to address the situation if he is to successfully quell the more disgruntled voices among the fans.
Grayson had already refused bids from rival clubs in the Championship, and it seemed the club was taking a welcome stance by refusing to sell one of its best assets. It was only when Gradel himself requested a transfer that he was reluctantly sold and despite Grayson’s talk of three new signings “being more or less done and dusted”, transfer deadline passed without the arrival of any new recruits.
Grayson’s attention might now turn to potential loanees who have failed to make the 25-man squad lists at their Premiership clubs; there are definitely some useful players around. Stoke’s versatile Danny Pugh might be in line for an Elland Road return, while Queens Park Rangers’ promising Norwegian winger Petter Vaagan Moen could be a very good emergency loan acquisition. Another option might be for Grayson to look at what is already available to him. The Honduras international Ramón Núñez has impressed at the start of the season, and this might be his chance to stake a serious claim for a first-team place.
For now, Max Gradel’s departure looks to have put a huge dent in Leeds’s push for promotion and it will be interesting to see how the club respond to this setback. Gradel’s development in Ligue 1 will also be fascinating to follow. There is no doubt that St Etienne have acquired a pacy and lively left-winger, whose talent is undisputed but whose temperament remains questionable.