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Opinions divided as Charlie Cresswell finally departs
Tuesday, 9th Jul 2024 21:52 by Tim Whelan

It’s only Tuesday, but the Leeds squad is already two central defenders lighter since the start of the week, and a third could well have gone by Friday. And it’s the departure of Charlie Cresswell which has led to the most debate amongst our fanbase.

Cresswell had been at the club for many years, having progressed throughout the academy age groups, before making his first team debut in a League Cup tie in September 2020. His first Premier League game came a year later against West Ham, when I thought he looked impressive. Others agreed, and after his mature performance thought he was a future Leeds United captain.

He spent the 2022/3 season on loan at Millwall, where his two goals on the opening day made him the Championship's top scorer, even if it was after only one game! He made 30 appearances for our dear friends in South-East London, and a spying mission on their forum told me he was generally impressive after a slightly dodgy start.

And so he returned to Elland Road at the start of the season just finished, thinking his time had come to be a regular starter for Leeds, now that he was in his 20s. He played in the first few games while the squad was reshaped and the club went through a difficult spell, but the squad needed more depth in central defence, and it made sense to get the best player we could for that position.

So Joe Rodon arrived, and from then on would be the first choice number 5. Cresswell might still have expected to get a few games, but matters came to a head when Rodon was suspended at the end of September, and Daniel Farke opted for the experience of Liam Cooper instead. That led to Cresswell’s dad Richard (Leeds striker of the mid-noughties) publicly criticising the manager for Charlie’s lack of game time, which can’t have gone down well with Farke.

The result was that young Cresswell started being left out of matchday squads altogether, with the manager saying he was not “mentally ready” to play. That cost him the chance to break into the side when Struijk picked up a long-term injury after Christmas, and when the manager would rather play a midfielder out of position, you know your time at the club is probably limited.

So it became clear that Cresswell would be leaving us for good this summer, and although a move to French club Toulouse seemed to have fallen through, today it was back on, and the two clubs shook hands on a fee of around £3.8million. A statement on the official website says “Charlie leaves with the best wishes of everyone at Leeds United and we thank him for his contributions to the club, both on and off the pitch”.

And Charlie’s response was as polite as could be expected in the circumstances. “This Club represents a lot. It’s a family story with Leeds, my father played it at the time. I made my debut there, I climbed all the ranks and I have all my friends. But it was time for me to leave, especially after this last season when I would have liked to have more playing time.”

Though his comments about his new club give a few hints of the frustrations he was feeling. “I’m focusing on Toulouse now. I felt wanted by the Club, who pushed hard internally to sign me. They made me understand I could be an important part of the project. A project that promises to be ambitious, that’s what I liked about it.”

And so the discussion began on social media, with some fans saying he lacked a bit of pace, thought he was better than he was, and that his fall-out with Farke betrayed an attitude problem. Another comment was “Great business for the boy and the club”, as he wouldn’t be getting any more game time soon.

But others disagreed. “Yet Another of academy players let go to soon”, “will probably be another player we regret letting go”, and “Another Farke decision, stupid”. I tend towards the latter camp, as Rodon is undoubtedly a better option, we might have been able to use Cresswell alongside him in many games, while learning from the more experienced Welshman. And his goalscoring threat at set pieces would have offered something we didn’t have last season.

A less contentious sale is that of Diego Llorente, who has joined La Liga side Real Betis on a permanent deal. Leeds rejected an offer of around €3m over the weekend, but the Seville-based club came back with a slightly improved bid, and we’ve obviously decided that was as good as it was going to get.

That still means a substantial loss on the £18million we paid for him in the summer of 2020, though as we signed him at the age of 26 and sold him at 30, his value could be expected to go down at this stage of his career anyway. In total he made 59 appearances in all competitions for Leeds, and looked impressive while we finished 9th in the Premier League in his first season, but he then his form took a sharp dip.

He also scored four goals, and I thought he showed a good striker’s instinct when the ball fell to his feet at set pieces, but his lapses of concentration while doing his day job led to him spending the last 18 months on loan at AS Roma. So it was always inevitable that Leeds would look to get his Premier League level wages off the books at the earliest opportunity.

The third and final central defender who might be leaving us soon is Liam Cooper, who was on the retained list the club issued a couple of weeks back, but who is unhappy to have been offered just a one year deal to replace the contract that expired on June 30th. That remains on the table, but the word is that the two sides are unlikely to reach agreement, with Hull City mentioned as one club who might be interested.

After all these departures we will probably need to get at least one new central defender into the club, as cover at least. It’s likely that the club need to know how many of the high earners they can get off the wage bill and how much we can earn in transfer fees before they know what the budget it for new signings. But it’s likely that we will be seeing some incoming transfers quite soon, so watch this space.


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