Leeds United may have strengthened well in the summer, but there remain holes left by the damaging departures they were forced to oversee throughout a tumultuous summer.
The exit of Rodrigo saw them lose out on their key goalscorer, whilst Tyler Adams’ move to AFC Bournemouth marked the second consecutive summer that they had lost their midfield orchestrator, after Kalvin Phillips’ departure in 2021. Even Max Wober, who only joined in January, quickly grew into their most reliable defensive asset at the back, remaining solid when others could not.
So, with all three of them having now left Elland Road, it was no mean feat for Daniel Farke to find their replacements.
Joel Piroe is expected to offer an alternative to the former, whilst Glen Kamara hopes to be a like-for-like replacement for the USA international. However, when it came to the former RB Salzburg titan, Joe Rodon’s signing arguably marked the most perfect one to fill such a vacancy, with power, poise and pure control at centre-back.
However, the only issue that remains is that the Wales international is not a permanent fix, having only joined on a loan deal from Tottenham Hotspur. No matter how bright his start, or how imperious he remains throughout the Championship campaign, the 25-year-old will likely be recalled next summer for Ange Postecoglou to reassess his future.
This will make it all the more painful when they lose a man who is already maintaining a 7.13 average rating in the second tier, buoyed by his 92% pass accuracy, 100% dribble success rate, 1.3 interceptions and 3.8 clearances per game, via Sofascore.
The Whites have merely plugged a hole in signing the defender, with a long-term replacement for Wober still needed. Fortunately, they boast an academy full of talent just waiting to be unleashed.
How good was Max Wober?
Although an unassuming signing, given Jesse Marsch was merely recruiting another of his former players after the failures Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen proved to be, the Austrian stalwart quickly proved himself to be a cut above these two flops.
The 25-year-old had shone in his homeland, but translating those talents into the Premier League posed a completely different challenge, especially with the specifications his role demands.
Given how the modern-day centre-back is forever evolving, with power and strength just as important as ability on the ball nowadays, many wondered how the 25-year-old would stand up to the physical demands of a division famed for its high-octane games.
But, with a 6.84 average rating across his 16 appearances, it is fair to say he largely succeeded. An admirable figure buoyed by a host of stellar defensive statistics, his 71% pass accuracy was saved by his 1.7 interceptions, 1.6 tackles and four clearances per game, via Sofascore.
His rating actually made him Leeds’ third-best performer in the league of those who started five or more games, and earned praise from Javi Gracia: “What I can say about Max, as everybody knows when he was available he played as a centre-back playing with Robin in the middle and he had very good performances.”
The Spaniard would rush to laud him on another occasion too, outlining the immediate partnership he had struck up with Robin Koch: “In my opinion, both centre backs played really well today. They had a tough challenge. As you say with a very tall player and all the defensive line was very concentrated and the good work of the team meant we got a clean sheet.”
So, to find a replacement for one of their few shining lights in an otherwise dull season will be no mean feat. Whilst many might suggest Charlie Cresswell as his natural successor from the academy, given his domineering characteristics and recent experience gained out on loan, there is perhaps another quietly shining in the background, biding his time before Farke hands him his chance.
Who is James Debayo?
James Debayo may be just 18 years old, but already he has begun making a name for himself in Yorkshire for his immense defensive displays for the youth sides.
It is a testament to both his maturity and his physicality that he has already been promoted into the U21s, having featured in their first four Premier League 2 games of the new season, three of which were wins.
To emphasise this point further, the teenage colossus actually already has 19 appearances for that side, and is just two shy of already matching the amount of games he has played for the U18s. The speed with which he is rising through the ranks is commendable and surely has caught the eye.
Even last year journalist Joe Donnohue sought to mark him out, highlighting one fine performance: “Only played first 45 but was impressive before taking an early yellow card. Had to be withdrawn at the break due to the booking.”
Although only a small sample size, the two brief appearances he made in the Football League Trophy last season highlighted his defensive prowess, as despite averaging just 51 minutes per game, he still mustered 1.5 interceptions and two clearances per game, via Sofascore.
With Wober clearly being a defence-first centre-back, allowing his passing to suffer as long as he remains staunch at the back, it seems Debayo too shares this warrior-like trait which could help him to thrive in the Championship.
However, a clip shared from the Rising Ballers account instead showcases a trickery that could allow him to even surpass the Austria international, pairing his solidity with a silkiness that Elland Road has been lacking in recent years.
Then, as if the youngster needed additional aid in promoting his talents, he already has grown into a mainstay for England’s U18s side, having been handed his debut by Neil Ryan.
Given Farke’s ability to replace the talent he has lost, showcased throughout the summer, it is no surprise that with Wober he pushed the long-term option down the road with a shrewd loan signing. Perhaps this was merely a financial decision, or perhaps his eye has in fact been caught by one of the young defenders tearing up the academy scene, just waiting to be given their big chance to shine in the senior squad.