Champion League

Leeds came close to signing £77m star who beat Ruben Dias in Ballon d’Or race

Leeds United have not always had the best of success in the transfer market over the years as they have brought in big-money flops and missed out on targets who have gone to achieve greatness.

The Whites relieved sporting director Victor Orta of his duties in May of this year after his work contributed to the club being relegated from the Premier League last season.

His transfer dealings and managerial appointments were not able to achieve the goal of staying in the top-flight and the Yorkshire-based side will be hoping for greater success in the future if they are able to return to the top table under Daniel Farke.

The likes of Brenden Aaronson, Dan James, and Rodrigo were all signed for significant fees at Premier League level for Leeds and failed to be consistent performers throughout their time on that stage.


However, the attention should also turn to the players Orta attempted to sign and was unable to get over the line as one talented gem who could have ended up at Elland Road was Josko Gvardiol.

How close Leeds came to signing Josko Gvardiol

Croatian outlet 24Sata claimed in 2020 that Leeds had an offer of €22m (£19m) accepted to sign the central defender from Dinamo Zagreb in September 2020.

The report claimed that then-manager Marcelo Bielsa viewed him as a dominant enforcer who could hit the ground running and impress at Premier League level, despite being 18 at the time.

They had already had an offer of €21m (£18m) accepted by Dinamo but the club decided to up their offer to €22m and included a 20% sell-on clause in order to improve their chances of securing his services ahead of RB Leipzig.

josko gvardiol

It was added that the Whites did not expect Gvardiol to be at Elland Road for much longer than one season as they believed that he would quickly be sold on for a significant profit to the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, or Liverpool.

However, the player seemingly decided to make the move to Leipzig instead, for a reported fee of just €16m (£14m), and was loaned back to Dinamo for the rest of the 2020/21 campaign.

Gvardiol’s Leipzig career in numbers

The impressive centre-back eventually joined up with his new team for the start of the 2021/22 campaign and went on to play 87 competitive matches in all competitions across two years in Germany.

He caught the eye with his Bundesliga performances during his first season with Leipzig as the versatile ace, who can also play at left-back, showed his abilities on and off the ball.

Gvardiol ranked within the top 9% of his positional peers for progressive passes (5.87) and progressive carries (1.76) per 90 at Bundesliga level that term.


The Croatia international also made 3.4 tackles and interceptions per game and won 58% of his physical duels over the course of the 2021/22 season.

These statistics show that the ex-Dinamo star hit the ground running in Germany as he was able to consistently win the ball back at an efficient rate for his side whilst also being able to impact games in possession with his progressive play out from the back.

Gvardiol, who played 30 Bundesliga matches last season, also impressed at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with Croatia as he displayed his quality at the very top level.

The 21-year-old titan averaged a Sofascore rating of 7.16 across seven appearances at the tournament and made 2.9 tackles and interceptions per game, to go along with a pass success rate of 90%.

How much Manchester City signed Gvardiol for

His impressive form for club and country over the last two years earned him a mega-money move to treble-winners Manchester City during the recent summer transfer window.

Pep Guardiola’s side sanctioned a staggering £77m swoop for the Croatian central defender, who became the second-most expensive defender in football history – behind Harry Maguire’s £80m switch from Leicester City to Manchester United in 2019.

That was significantly more than the £14m Leipzig paid for his services in 2020 and, still, considerably more than the £19m that Leeds were prepared to pay.

Even if you take 20% of profit away – as part of the proposed deal with Dinamo – the Whites would have made a colossal £46.4m profit if they were able to sell Gvardiol on for a similar fee had they been able to get that deal over the line.


Gvardiol has made 11 appearances in all competitions for the Cityzens so far this season and has already showcased his progressive quality in possession at Premier League level.

The young colossus currently ranks in the top 12% of his positional peers within the division for progressive passes (5.62) per 90, which highlights his ability to ignite attacking sequences from a defensive position.

This suggests that he has been able to quickly adapt to life in the Premier League and is already being trusted to play regular minutes under Guardiola, with seven top-flight starts to date.

Gvardiol’s Ballon d’Or ranking

The 2023 Ballon d’Or ceremony took place on Monday of this week and the great Lionel Messi was crowned with his eighth Ballon d’Or trophy for his exploits with Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain.

Whilst he did not win an award, Gvardiol was recognised for his outstanding performances by placing 25th out of the 30 shortlisted candidates for the trophy.

Kim Min-jae (22nd) was the only defender who featured higher on the list and, interestingly, the Croatia international finished above his teammate and Manchester City star Ruben Dias, who was 30th.


This is a particularly impressive accomplishment when you consider that the Portugal international was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2022/23 Premier League season.

He also made the Champions League Squad of the Season as City beat Inter and kept a clean sheet in the final to secure the trophy, which shows that Dias was an outstanding performer domestically and in Europe for the treble-winners.

Therefore, Gvardiol finishing above him in the Ballon d’Or ranking illustrates just how good the Croatia international was for club and country last season.

Leeds, Orta, and Bielsa must rue not being able to convince the then-teenage titan to make the switch to Elland Road as they missed out on a world-class defender who could have made them a gigantic profit.

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