Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani revealed on Monday that he wanted to appoint former Chelsea, Juventus, and Italy manager Antonio Conte for the same role at Leeds this summer, before ultimately landing Marcelo Bielsa.
Conte, who left Chelsea in July after two seasons, was part of a shortlist for the Leeds job that Radrizzani said included former Premier League-winning manager Claudio Ranieiri and current Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.
“Conte [was on the list] and with him, we would have been certain of promotion to the Premier League,” Radrizzani told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I would even have offered him €20m. Then I interviewed Ranieri who was attracted by our interest, but declined as he was waiting for a call from a top-flight club.
“I even spoke to Martinez, but Belgium were an obstacle.
However, after internal discussions at the club, Bielsa was identified as the “ideal candidate”.
“At the end of May, I spoke with our director of football [Victor] Orta and he said Bielsa would be ideal, but that it would be impossible [to get him].
“Those words just motivated me even more and we negotiated for a few days then reached an agreement at £3m, which he shares with his staff, and a one year plus one year option as duration.
“We finished negotiations after ten hours of conversation in Buenos Aires. He’d studied 20 of our games and already knew all the players, including the youngsters.
“It seemed impossible to get him here, but he’s our top player. We are a Premier League club, and even more so with him.”
So far, hiring Bielsa has paid off, with the Argentine having become the first manager in Leeds history to win his first four games in charge.
They will go top of the Championship table with a win against Swansea City on Tuesday, having won three from three so far in the league to go with a Carabao Cup win over Bolton Wanderers.
Bielsa’s brand of thrilling football has instantly earned him plaudits after his fast start with Leeds.
Fresh company has emerged for holder Cristiano Ronaldo after the 2017/18 UEFA Player of the Year’s three nominees were announced on Monday night.
Three-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo’s stellar exploits for Real Madrid – before this summer’s defection to Juventus – and Portugal maintained his status as the only ever-present in the final reckoning, since 2010/11’s inaugural running.
But rather than usual nemesis Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina, new faces were present. These were former club-mate and Croatia metronome Luka Modric, plus Liverpool and Egypt’s unstoppable Mohamed Salah.
The winner is set to be announced on August 30 in Monaco, prior to the UEFA Champions League’s group-stage draw. But we’ve had a look at the trio’s outstanding campaigns and tried to pick out who we think deserves the continent’s top individual gong.
A new appreciation emerged in 2017/18 for one of football’s most-refined talents.
Modric has long been the conductor for club and country from centre midfield.
Particularly for Madrid, this came in a deferential role to the irrepressible Ronaldo. Yet much of the credit for 2017/18’s third-successive UEFA Champions League was handed to Modric.
Where partners Toni Kroos and Casemiro floundered early on, the 32-year-old was a beacon of consistency.
The squat support act’s ascension to centre stage accelerated at World Cup 2018. As the pivotal figure for Croatia as skipper, the 32-year-old’s comfort in possession and desire to accept responsibility guided Zlatko Dalic’s underdogs to defeat in the final against France.
Apt reward came with FIFA’s Golden Ball, for player of the tournament.
It was a similar story in the Champions League. Wales forward Gareth Bale struck twice in the final and Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius endured a personal disaster, though it was Modric’s artistry which ensured the Premier League side were kept, largely, at arm’s length.
Honours: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, FIFA World Cup runner-up
Win percentage: 59.3
Punishing consistency had come to define Ronaldo throughout his ground-breaking career.
This image was maintained at continental and international levels. But in La Liga, ‘CR7’ rode a rollercoaster.
Hampered by an early suspension, he struck just once in his first eight top-flight appearances as Madrid’s title defence floundered.
In contrast, his final 14 matches produced 22 strikes.
These trademark flourishes were found with frequency elsewhere, in yet another campaign laden with goals, records and trophies.
Ronaldo’s perfect free-kick against Brazil’s Gremio in Abu Dhabi ensured the FIFA Club World Cup was retained.
In the Champions League, the 33-year-old forward became the first man in the competition’s history to net in 11-straight games.
This run would consequentially continue in the semi-finals against future employers, Juve. One of football’s great goals was produced with Turin’s bicycle kick, a place in the final then being earned in nerveless and dramatic fashion thanks to a deciding 93rd-minute penalty in the return leg.
A hat-trick against Spain when World Cup 2018 began was the last personal highlight of another bravura season.
Honours: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
Win percentage: 62.5
A superstar was born at Anfield in 2017/18.
Salah arrived there that June off the back of another fine season for Roma, but with doubts to assuage after a miserable short spell at Chelsea earlier in his career.
Any questions were emphatically answered by the Egypt forward.
The 26-year-old would go on to notch 44 times for his new outfit, coming just three shy of the legendary Ian Rush’s club-record seasonal benchmark. His 32 Premier League efforts also broke the division’s individual season record.
Only an early – and controversial – shoulder injury during defeat in the Champions League showpiece caused by a collision with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos can sully any memories.
This would impact a World Cup campaign he earned with October’s 95th-minute penalty against DR Congo. This ended an expectant nation’s 28-year wait to compete.
Again, the shoulder problem would cast a shadow. But in two Group A-defeats, he struck twice when clearly unfit.
Salah became the poster boy for manager Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Reds and the crown jewel in an electric front line. Majestic goals against Roma and Manchester City in Europe showcased a talent of rare aplomb.
Honours: UEFA Champions League runner-up
Win percentage: 51.7
Three outstanding candidates, but only one UEFA award to win.
Salah was unstoppable in 2017/18, though a failure to lift any silverware counts against him in this rarefied arena.
Ronaldo was, again, the most-productive performer for the continent’s s champion club. It would be unfair, however, not to overlook his domestic travails in the opening half of the campaign.
This leaves Modric. When Madrid stuttered out the blocks, he valiantly tried to lift them back to their best.
At the World Cup, he was unquestionably the globe’s great performer. Qualification enough to be rightly considered as UEFA’s Player of the Year.
Ronaldo – the winner in each of the last two years – and Modric both starred for Real Madrid as the Spanish giants won the Champions League for the third year running, while the latter also won the Golden Ball for the best player at the World Cup after inspiring Croatia on their run to the final.
Meanwhile, Egyptian star Salah scored 10 times as Liverpool made it to the Champions League final, before losing 3-1 to Real in Kiev.
Salah was forced off with a shoulder injury in the first half of that game after a clash with Real defender Sergio Ramos.
He also netted 32 goals in his debut Premier League season, with that tally a record for a 38-game campaign.
Lionel Messi came fifth in the voting by a jury of 80 coaches from clubs who played in the Champions League and Europa League, as well as 55 journalists representing each UEFA member nation.
The Barcelona star came second to Ronaldo last year but also failed to make the final three-man shortlist in 2016.
Atletico Madrid’s France star Antoine Griezmann, who scored twice as his club beat Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final, just missed out in fourth.
The winner will be named, along with the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, in Monaco on Thursday, August 30, the same day as the draw for the Champions League group stage.
The nominees for the women’s award are France’s Amandine Henry and Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, who both won the Champions League with Lyon, and Denmark’s Pernille Harder, who lost in the final with Wolfsburg.