Ever since Leeds sold one of the club’s brightest young starlets in Ronaldo Vieira, Marcelo Bielsa has no doubt been keen on trying to unearth another midfield gem at Elland Road.
At the time of Vieira’s move to Sampdoria, Andrea Radrizzani made it clear that it was a deal just too good to turn down considering the financial situation.
He said: “He was one of best players to come from our youth but I cannot put the club in danger in the future. Unfortunately to sustain a club in this league, we need to sell one or two players each year. We’ve invested a lot and it’s not enough to break even, so we had to manage the club and look at the future, not just today.”
While Kalvin Phillips has grown into a bona-fide star and England international, the potential signing of Ainsley Maitland-Niles may be the closest Leeds get to replacing the talented Vieira.
The Baggies have been utilising him in central midfield this season, while the Gunners opted to field him in both full-back positions and even further forward too.
That ability to play in multiple roles and positions is something Chris Sutton has previously hailed, saying: “The young man’s versatility is a weapon. He is such a versatile talent – a diamond.”
But at Leeds, Maitland-Niles could develop into a real star in the middle of the park just like Vieira promised to be in his break-through season at the club.
Just like the former Whites starlet, the 23-year-old reads the game particularly well, and has averaged an impressive 2.2 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per game in the Premier League since joining West Brom in the January transfer window.
Compare that to Vieira’s break-out campaign at Leeds during the 2016/2017 season, when he averaged 2.1 tackles and one interception per game in the Championship – remarkably similar defensive numbers compared to Maitland-Niles.
The England international also has that comparable ability to cover the ground well, with his former teammate at Arsenal, Sead Kolasinac, hailing his pace, saying: “He’s so quick and he reads the game well, so he knows what to do before the ball arrives. When you’re that quick, it’s difficult to stop someone.”
If Leeds do manage to pull off a deal for Maitland-Niles in the summer, then they could well finally replace Vieira.