The £100m spending spree has lost its novelty value. When it may only yield a solitary player, when the biggest buyers’ summer expenditure could be double or even triple that, when £100m was far less than promoted Nottingham Forest paid out last summer, it may not feel like such an extraordinary event after all.
But the £100m loaning spree represents an altogether newer development. The dynamic is different, too: the nine-figure sum may reflect the purchase prices of the players being borrowed, not the amounts their temporary employers will have to fork out to acquire their services for the season.
Leeds United spent well over £100m buying players last season. The chances are that, by the time the window closes, they will have loaned out some £100m of signings – in terms of transfer fees paid rather than resale value now – this year. Which, in part, reflects the reality they could not sell them all, and perhaps any, for similar sums now.
But Rasmus Kristensen, who cost around £10m, has joined Roma. Marc Roca, an £11m addition, headed to Real Betis for the season. The £13m defender Robin Koch has sealed his move to Eintracht Frankfurt. The £18m centre-back Diego Llorente is back at Roma, where he spent the second half of last season. The £25m Brenden Aaronson has gone to Union Berlin for the campaign, trading the Championship for the Champions League.
Between them, they cost around £77m of Leeds’ Premier League revenue. Another loan or two – and if, for different reasons, Tyler Adams, Luis Sinisterra, Jack Harrison, Junior Firpo and Georginio Rutter might be expected to either be sold or stay but could yet prove contenders – then maybe Helder Costa and Dan James could take the total over £100m.
All of which would reflect a shift in the transfer market. Relegated clubs have long been raided for players, sometimes for cut-price fees, but they tended to be bought, not borrowed. So far, Leeds’ only sale is Rodrigo, a scorer of 13 Premier League goals last season leaving – albeit in his thirties and with a lone year left on his contract – for just £3m. But they have been busier in a newer market: for loanees.
It highlights several elements. Premier League clubs have had increasing difficulty selling to mainland Europe for meaningful fees in recent seasons; Championship clubs with footballers acquired for the top flight and caps for major countries stand still less chance of trading on their preferred terms. Perhaps Leeds came to that pragmatic conclusion early in the window; certainly opportunistic continental clubs realise they can acquire high-calibre players for nothing more than their salary and the occasional loan fee.
In addition, there seems a recognition that players who signed up for a newly promoted outfit – as Koch and Llorente did in 2020 – or one who had just dodged the drop, as Leeds had when Aaronson, Kristensen and Roca joined in 2022, would not be expected to brave the EFL.
With a dramatic drop in income, even with parachute payments softening their fall into the lower leagues, Leeds needed to reduce the wage bill. In some circumstances, it can be more of a priority than the prospect of transfer fees. Leeds will not recoup £77m for the quintet, but there are different tales among them: with Koch entering the last year of his deal, his Leeds career is in effect over; Llorente signed a new deal until 2026 in December, when demotion was a possibility and shortly before being loaned out; Aaronson, a 22-year-old, with four years left on his contract, could yet have plenty of Premier League football ahead of him at Elland Road.
If part of the gamble is that Leeds can come back up, perhaps allowing them to inject loanees back into their squad with their (supposedly) greater quality in 12 months’ time, there is also the prospect that if they do not, then they are sent out for a further year elsewhere in 2024 because there are no buyers. It underlines an economy of risk: if some purchases don’t just lose some but all of their transfer value when a club is relegated, the money spent by the bottom-half Premier League clubs is likelier to end up wasted.
In the meantime, there is a logic to Leeds’ actions, disposing of players who may not want to play in the lower divisions early in the window, to rebuild around their core of Championship stalwarts, young players and Brits, to giving new manager Daniel Farke something of a clean slate.
For now, their squad is looking slender. There is a way to alter that. Because the recent history of the Championship shows one of the keys to exiting it in the right direction is to make astute loan signings – as Burnley did with Nathan Tella, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Ian Maatsen, Sheffield United with Tommy Doyle and James McAteer or Luton with Ethan Horvath, Marvelous Nakamba and Leeds’ Cody Drameh last season – from Premier League clubs. If the age-old wisdom was to neither a borrower nor a lender be, Leeds may hope it will pay to be both.