The dust has settled and the hustle and bustle of the Championship season has ground to a halt. Marcelo Bielsa’s valiant Leeds outfit – despite a flurry of last-gasp winners and destiny moments which typically accompany a successful promotion or title bid – fell short of the Premier League.
The land promised to a side whose achievements during this campaign transcended beyond a third place finish remains elusive. Bielsa’s side inspired a wider interest in Championship football but it was another giant in Aston Villa who scooped the most important and tangible achievement a second tier outfit could wish for. Dean Smith was the revered architect behind a scintillating run of form which saw the Villans sneak into the play-off places, but the foundations for success were considerably more advantageous to those afforded to Bielsa.
A yawning disparity in the depth of both squads dictated the conclusion of a marathon push towards the finish line. It is no coincidence that the Whites stuttered, wilted and eventually collapsed before crawling through the red ribbon, while Villa improved perpetually before eking out the strides needed to complete the job.
Villa were blessed with depth and elite talent at this level; Leeds valiantly maximised limited resources, fine-tuned and compromised. It is a marathon not a sprint: the pattern of the season vindicated the existence of that very idiom as the side who burst out the blocks with jet-heels were eventually pipped by a languid starter who ambled mid-field for large chunks of the race.
There are a multitude of components to unpick from the season but it’s clear that one major transfer strategy from Villa enabled them to rise highest in the play-offs: the acquisition of a multitude of top class loanees.
That Jack Harrison was the outstanding loanee at Elland Road is telling about the state of the decision-making last summer. Jamaal Blackman returned to Chelsea just as his moment to step into the side beckoned, Lewis Baker’s agreement was cancelled with first-opportunities lacking, and Izzy Brown’s stint was a tedious anomaly.
Villa, meanwhile, welcomed Tammy Abraham, a proven goal-machine at Championship level, Anwar El Ghazi, a top-flight winger from Ligue 1 who spent a considerable chunk of his formative years in Ajax’s internationally renowned youth system, Axel Tuanzebe, one of Manchester United’s most promising youngsters, Kortney Hause and the colossal Tyrone Mings.
Abraham, El Ghazi, Tuanzebe and Mings, in particular, were absolute game-changers. Collectively they added stubborn resistance and incisive verve, stark intelligence and clinical finishing, composure and nerve. Stark quality at both ends of the pitch from a handful of players who may not even be at Villa Park got them to the top-flight, but the club are there nonetheless and Victor Orta must be pondering how that blueprint can be replicated at Leeds United in the summer window.
It wasn’t a flawless recruitment drive from the club as Yannick Bolasie and Tom Carroll saw their stints cut short, but even those players offered Premier League pedigree and promise to suggest a coherent strategy was in place.
There are no foolproof recipes for success but, with Radrizzani explicitly revealing the club will be limited in the transfer market by virtue of Financial Fair Play rules, per Guardian, this is a method which is almost writing itself.
Loan deals will be paramount in the bid for promotion. Leeds have unfinished business on the pitch and with Bielsa at the helm you’d have to back them to go close once again next season. Business away from the field, however, will dictate his second season in charge.
Villa have shown Leeds the way and emulating the play-off winners’ success in the loan market should be firmly at the core of Orta’s summer policy in the coming months.