Champion League

Leeds missed out on £17m ace who just finished above Bellingham in Ballon d’Or

Leeds United have found themselves back in the Championship after a three-year stay at the top table of English football that ended with a relegation earlier this year.

Marcelo Bielsa led the team back to the Premier League at the end of the 2019/20 campaign and achieved survival in his first season at that level.

A combination of the Argentine genius and Jesse Marsch then kept the team up the following term, only for a combination of Marsch, Javi Gracia, and Sam Allardyce to oversee relegation last season.

The managers were not the only men to blame for Leeds’ downfall as former sporting director Victor Orta, who was relieved of his duties in May of this year, should also take some of the flak for his decision-making in regard to transfers.

Orta’s most-expensive Leeds signings

Player

Fee paid (via Transfermarkt)

Brenden Aaronson

£28.6m

Rodrigo

£26.1m

Dan James

£25.4m

Georginio Rutter

£24.4m

Luis Sinisterra

£21.8m

As you can see from the table above, his list of big-money signings during his time at Elland Road does not make for great reading, and one name, in particular, stands out in Dan James.

Whilst the Welsh ace has scored three goals and provided four assists in the Championship this season, Leeds fumbled a world-class talent before they decided to sign the former Manchester United man – Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

How close Leeds came to signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

In the summer transfer window in 2021, the player confirmed that he had talks with the Whites over a possible move to Elland Road from Rubin Kazan.

The Georgian whiz stated that there were discussions with Leeds and did not rule out the possibility of further negotiations with the English club before the end of the window.

However, the talented gem also added that his dream was to play for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, and that his main goal is to eventually win the Champions League.



Khvicha-Kvaratskhelia-transfer-gossip-napoli-arsenal-edu-arteta-bukayo-saka

Speaking on the Comment Live YouTube channel, his agent Timur Gurtskaya claimed, in October 2021, that no teams were prepared to pay the €20m (£17m) asking price that was set by Kazan. He even went as far as to say that no teams would muster up as little as €12m (£10m) to secure his services at the time.

LeedsLive claimed that Bielsa and the club ‘decided’ to swoop for long-standing transfer target James from Manchester United, who was snapped up for a reported fee of £25m in August 2021.

Kvaratskhelia was coming off the back of four goals and eight assists in 23 league games for Kazan during the 2020/21 campaign but only went on to manage two goals and five assists in 19 league outings after no English teams met the £17m asking price.

He then moved back to his home country to sign for Dinamo Batumi in March 2022 before, interestingly, signing for Napoli that summer for a fee of up to €12m (£10m).

Kvaratskhelia’s Napoli statistics

That move has turned out to be a masterclass from the Italian side as the Georgia international has gone on to cement himself as one of the top players in Europe.

The right-footed magician caught the eye with an outstanding 14 goals and 17 assists in all competitions for Napoli throughout the 2022/23 campaign.

This included 12 goals and 13 assists in 34 Serie A matches to help his team to win their first Scudetto since the 1989/90 season – ending a 33-year wait for the trophy to come back to Naples.

Kvaratskhelia was an exceptional creator and incredibly progressive on the ball during the 2022/23 Serie A term. He ranked within the top 10% of his positional peers at that level for assists (0.41) and xAG (0.30) per 90, which shows that he was an excellent creative threat for Napoli.

The left winger also placed within the top 2% for progressive carries (7.58) per 90 and this illustrates how impressive his ball-carrying and dribbling ability was. His quality in that regard allowed him to push his team up the pitch to transition from defence to attack in order to cause opposition sides constant problems in the final third.

He has also started the current campaign in fine form with a return of three goals and four assists in nine Serie A matches so far, which has taken his total to 17 goals and 22 assists in 55 games in all competitions for Napoli.

His sensational form for the Italian club was rewarded at the 2023 Ballon d’Or awards as he finished 17th in the ranks, with Inter Miami and Argentina’s Lionel Messi picking up the award in first place.

Kvaratskhelia finished above some huge footballing names; including the likes of Harry Kane, Antoine Griezmann, Bukayo Saka, and England and Real Madrid superstar Jude Bellingham.

Jude Bellingham’s Real Madrid statistics

The former Birmingham starlet joined the Spanish giants for a fee that could rise to more than £115m from Borussia Dortmund over the summer and has been on fire this season.

Bellingham has racked up an incredible 13 goals and three assists in 13 matches for Madrid during the 2023/24 campaign as an attacking midfielder.



Jude Bellingham

The 20-year-old maestro was honoured, however, with the Kopa Trophy – an award for the best player aged 21 or under in Europe. Kvaratskhelia, aged 22, was not eligible to be in contention for the honour.

This has come after his return of 14 goals and seven assists in 42 outings for Dortmund in all competitions throughout the 2022/23 season to earn his big-money switch.

This highlights how impressive it was for Kvaratskhelia to finish above him in the Ballon d’Or rankings, which further emphasises why Leeds may live to regret not swooping to secure a £17m transfer in 2021.

Dan James’ Leeds statistics

Meanwhile, James, who was signed for £25m by Bielsa that summer, was unable to prove himself to be a consistent performer at the top level.

The Wales international scored four goals and provided five assists in 32 Premier League appearances during his first campaign with the club and was then sent out on loan to Fulham, where he scored twice in 20 top-flight outings.

In total, the 25-year-old winger has scored seven goals and assisted nine in 53 games in all competitions for Leeds, which is considerably less impressive than Kvaratskhelia’s return for Napoli.

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