Leeds youngster Archie Gray sold to Tottenham for £30m in new low for fans

Archie Gray of Leeds United celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 2-1 during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Leicester City at Elland Road on February 23, 2024 in Leeds, England
Archie Gray came of age at Elland Road last season - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

Archie Gray has completed his £30 million move to Tottenham Hotspur and has admitted being a Celtic supporter played a role in him choosing to work with Ange Postecoglou.

Gray, the great nephew of Leeds United legend Eddie, has left Elland Road with the club saying they are “heartbroken at his departure” but added that the sale will help them keep within financial regulations.

Spurs triggered a release clause in the 18-year-old midfielder’s contract that became active when Leeds failed to get promoted back to the Premier League. Wales centre-back Joe Rodon has moved in the opposite direction.

“When Spurs came and I had the opportunity to play in the Champions League eventually and Europa League this year I couldn’t really say no,” said Gray. “I know so many players that are here, not so much the first team but the young lads and another thing is that it’s a massive project under Ange and it’s something that I want to be a part of.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a massive Celtic fan so I love him and my whole family loves him. I haven’t really said this to be fair. He’s also a massive factor because playing under a really good manager is really important for me as well. I’ve still got loads to learn because I’m only 18 so it’s really important.”

Leeds were expected to sell some of their assets after losing in the Championship play-off final to Southampton, with Gray among their exciting young prospects.

“Whilst we understand that supporters will be hugely disappointed to lose such a home-grown talent, and a family name so synonymous with Leeds United, the move improves the club’s chance to compete for automatic promotion next season by increasing our ability to build a competitive squad within the league’s financial control regulations,” read a statement from Leeds.

“Everyone at Leeds United is heartbroken to see one of our own depart and would like to thank Archie for all his efforts and professionalism. He leaves with the very best wishes for his future career and in the knowledge that Leeds will always be his home.”

New low for Leeds supporters after another figure of hope sold

By Rob Bagchi

Sometimes it seems that “Here we go again” would be a more appropriate motto for Leeds United than “Marching on Together”. Just as supporters think this particular cycle of despair reached its nadir with a broadly acquiescent defeat in the Championship play-off final by Southampton, it was revealed that Archie Gray, their 18-year-old midfielder of uncommon poise, skill and immense promise, was the subject of a release-clause triggering offer from Brentford.

On Saturday night the club was assailed by a tempest of spiky recrimination, a despondency akin to grief and threats to cancel season tickets and membership subscriptions unassuaged by the next morning’s announcement that the deal was off. Everyone knew that this was no respite and indeed it soon emerged he would be joining Tottenham instead for a gross fee of £40 million, a transfer concluded on Tuesday morning.

In their official confirmation of the sale, Leeds say “they are heartbroken to see one of our own depart”. No doubt the ownership group, 49ers Enterprises, are being sincere. There is a hard-headed rationale behind it, too. “The move improves the club’s chance to compete for automatic promotion next season by increasing our ability to build a competitive squad within the league’s financial control regulations,” they add. Balance sheet trumps sentiment, they stress, sounding like the Shadow Chancellor. Jam tomorrow, gruel today.

Leeds fans had only a year to watch Gray grow with the senior team
Leeds fans had only a year to watch Gray grow with the senior team - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

The transfer, obviously, is a direct result of Leeds’ failure last season to go up, four defeats in their final six games costing them first top and then second place during the run-in. But it is also a consequence, presumably unintended, of the league’s profit and sustainability regulations which yield pure and greater profit on the sale of the best home-grown players rather than those that came at a cost. The good of the game is best served by development rather than speculation but these rules, as they currently apply, do not prevent clubs going to the casino, it means that when you lose, the house, in this case the Premier League’s rich six, literally take your kids.

While it is also a repercussion of two poor Premier League transfer windows in the summer of 2022 and January 2023 which saddled Leeds with ‘assets’ bought at top prices whose performances did not match their value and then left only on loan upon relegation, the club’s long-term issues stem from a history of underinvestment. Ever since its foundation in 1919, the club has tried every kind of financial instrument going from share issues to mortgages to debentures to loans to complex transfer financing to getting the begging bowl out to compensate for the absence of sustained investment by an individual or group. In 1961, the chairman Harry Reynolds, did just that and provided the bedrock for the team who twice became champions and had a 10-year run of top four finishes. When Don Revie left the club in 1974, Elland Road had been radically upgraded, his side had just won the title and had £2 million in the bank. Within 10 years it had been relegated and the ground sold, not for the last time, to ward off collapse.

Accountancy will always trample over romance

It’s a tale of squandering a leading position in the European game for want of financial stability. Yes, directors have put money in but they have all had their return once the club has been sold various times over the past 40 years. And yet the only credible way to try to build a sustainably higher income stream, the redevelopment of Elland Road which sells out every week and has a season-ticket waiting list said to be more than 10,000, is always postponed. “Spades in the ground,” we are told, will come when Leeds are established in the Premier League. Listen to the people kicking that can down the road and one would assume it was illegal or impossible to build in the Championship as if they had never seen Field of Dreams, nor remembered that Sunderland’s Stadium of Light and Middlesbrough’s Riverside were built when in the second tier. Countless others have rebuilt stands in situ during a season, too.

Without that solid foundation, you become a selling club of your best home-grown talents. In 1957 they sold John Charles, eight years after his debut as a 17-year-old, to Juventus to help pay for a new West Stand. In 1994 they sold David Batty to Blackburn Rovers to meet a payment on the East Stand and subsequently, since relegation in 2004, they have cashed in on James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Danny Rose and Lewis Cook, who all became England internationals away from Elland Road and had years delighting fans of other clubs.

That is Archie’s fate, too and whoever comes next, which is likely to be his younger brother Harry, a 15-year-old striker, unless they can break this cycle. Accountancy will always trample over romance in this scenario. It was inevitable that Archie would go at some point. It is the reason he had a release clause in his contract and his family, with ties to Leeds going back seven decades, are clear-eyed enough about football to make a nonsense of speculation that they will be devastated. His career progression is as well planned as Mark Bellingham’s for Jude and Alf-Inge Haaland’s for Erling.

The shame is that unlike Charles or Batty or Kalvin Phillips, Leeds fans had only a year to watch him grow. They also know that if a 17-year-old Billy Bremner came along now to make his Leeds United debut as he did in 1960, or a 15-year-old Peter Lorimer two years later, they would be sold long before Billy could play 772 matches or Peter score 238 goals. And that truly stinks.