The £15m transfer that would guarantee Leeds United an instant return to the Premier League
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If any club knows how hard it can be to get out of the Championship, it’s Leeds United. The last time they were relegated from the top flight, back in 2004, it took them 16 years to make it back to the Premier League. If they want to make their latest stay a little shorter, they will need to make some smart signings this summer.
Business is currently being held up by the takeover over the club by 49ers Enterprises, which is awaiting ratification by the EFL. That should happen soon, and with it the swift appointment of a new manager – likely to be Daniel Farke, the German coach who got Norwich City promoted back in 2019. Once that is all in place, the real work of the summer window can begin in earnest.
Some of that business will be outgoings, of course. Tyler Adams is a hot commodity, Fulham are in for Brenden Aaronson, Rodrigo will be off and Patrick Bamford has made it fairly clear he wants to take his striking skills and virtuoso violin talents back to the Premier League at the first opportunity. That leaves some substantial voids to fill – and a new striker could be the biggest priority of the lot.
It’s nearly impossible to get into the promotion places of the second tier without a steady supply of goals, and most top six sides of the past few years have had a 20+ goal player in their ranks – Aleksandr Mitrović at Fulham, Teemu Pukki at Norwich, Chuba Akpom at Middlesbrough and so on. A regular goalscorer is frequently the difference between promotion and a near miss.
With Bamford and Rodrigo unlikely to hang around, it’s hard to see where those goals come from. Willy Gnonto is lavishly talented but even if he doesn’t find a top flight buyer, he still only scored two goals in 24 league appearances last term. He will probably be a 20-goal player one day, but as it stands the 19-year-old has scored 20 goals in his entire senior career.
All of which, then, means that Leeds need a new forward. Someone who is nailed on, as far as that is ever possible, to rattle the onion bag time and time again. There’s one man on the market who fits the bill – Swansea City’s Joël Piroe.
The 23-year-old Dutchman joined the Swans in 2021 for £1m from PSV Eindhoven, and has shone ever since – netting 22 goals in his first Championship campaign and 19 last season, despite playing in a team that never spent too much time in the upper reaches of the table.
A left-footed forward who’s equally comfortable as a central striker or as an inside-right, he won the Golden Boot at the 2017 European Under-19 Championships and despite never really breaking into the PSV first team – making just 11 Eredivisie appearances – he’s shone since moving to South Wales.
He’s as close to a complete forward as you can expect to get in the Championship – he has an accurate shot from almost any range, is superb at playing quick interchanges around the box and has excellent passing accuracy. He’s just as good at generating chances with his movement and passing as he is at scoring, and he’s pretty good at that.
His finishing is impressive – he’s overperformed his xG both of his seasons at Swansea – but it’s his intelligent positioning and off-the-ball play that really makes him one of the best forwards in the second tier. His knack for generating space where none should be, and for slipping his marker both in front of and behind the defensive line, means he gets into a huge number of shooting areas, averaging well over 3 attempts per game. Combine that with his accuracy in front of goal, and he is essentially guaranteed an impressive haul at this level.
Any club looking to secure automatic promotion, therefore, should be moving heaven and earth to secure the Dutchman’s services – and unfortunately for Leeds, another side in the same freshly-relegated boat have got the memo. Leicester City are ramping up their interest in Piroe and are reportedly already negotiating a deal believed to be somewhere north of £15m.
The good news for Leeds – and for Leicester – is that Swansea are somewhat keen to sell. Piroe has just one year left on his contract and his club are keen to avoid his inevitable departure on a free transfer at the end of the campaign. For the slightly smaller sides of the second tier, £15m is big money. Just ask Blackburn Rovers how they feel about failing to sell Ben Brereton Díaz for a similar fee and failing to get promoted while the Chilean international was still at Ewood Park.
But Leeds will need to get going quickly if they want to land Piroe – there won’t be time to wait and see how the Bamford situation pans out. Either they git a bid in sharpish, or one of the best forwards in the division will be playing for a promotion rival.
Piroe wouldn’t be the only player they need to bring in, and Bamford won’t be the only player who needs to be replaced. A holding midfielder will be essential as well, but there are more options on the market there – when it comes to strikers who promise big returns year in, year out, there are very few options available on anything resembling a Championship budget, even at the top end of the division.
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If Leeds want to go straight back up, and want to guarantee themselves one of the best weapons on the transfer market, they need to get in gear quickly. Piroe is just about as good as it gets in the Championship, and the Whites should be on the phone to his agent yesterday.