“I did my best. I’m sorry – in the end it wasn’t enough.”
Andrea Radrizzani has sold his majority stake in Leeds after six years of highs and lows.
Leeds were in the Championship when he bought out Massimo Cellino in 2017 and they are back there after being relegated on the final day of the season in May.
During a rollercoaster six years there were the highs of promotion under Marcelo Bielsa and a ninth-place finish back in the Premier League, and the lows of losing to Derby in the Championship play-offs, as well as the 21 league defeats and the worst defensive record in the Premier League last season.
As he said goodbye to Leeds, Radrizzani agreed to speak to Sky Sports News in an exclusive interview about his time at Elland Road, covering topics including:
- His best decision of appointing Bielsa – and the difficulty of sacking him
- Why Jesse Marsch was brought in to play in the same style as Bielsa – and how it never happened
- Why keeping Marsch until after the World Cup in Qatar was a huge mistake
- How Leeds should have been more careful with signings and bought more experienced players
- Why Sam Allardyce could have kept Leeds up with more time
How would you look back on your time at Leeds?
“It was a very sweet time in my life but unfortunately it didn’t end in the way I wished.
“But I take with me a lot of nice memories and good friendship. I love Leeds and living in Yorkshire. I was a unique experience.”
What was the best memory?
“Obviously, it was winning the Championship and getting promotion to the Premier League with Marcelo [Bielsa]. That was the main goal and the reason why I came to the club.
“It’s bitter now to know the club is back in the Championship but in my six years I achieved what I wanted.
“But it was the peak and the best part of my experience.”
What does it feel like now to be leaving the club in these circumstances?
“It’s sad as we worked hard for six years, took risks and made a lot of money. If you look at the numbers when I bought the club, the revenue was £36m in the Championship.
“After three years, it was £60m revenue and we got to £210m revenue in the Premier League. The numbers reflect the transformation of the club.
“You can also see the transformation in the way the city now engages with the club. Football is a great platform and we brought back life and energy to the city.
“We also invested a lot in the infrastructure at the club – the training ground, lounges. Overall, I feel we’ve left a solid, modern club compared with what I found when I arrived.”
Was Kenny Dalglish the man who advised you to buy Leeds?
“The best, most dangerous piece of advice I’ve ever received! It was good advice but obviously football business is risky and it’s not easy. You’re in less control than in other activities, but I’ve learned a lot in the past six years.
The best, most dangerous piece of advice I’ve ever received! It was good advice but obviously football business is risky and it’s not easy.
“I’ve been asking myself, ‘should I continue or not?’ But I’ve wanted to continue because you get a lot back from people. The impact football has on people is incredible and unique. There is nothing like it and there’s such adrenaline.
“The unpredictability of the sport keeps you alive.”
What are the main things you have learned?
“I’ve learned to respect that the fans are the owners and you are just the custodian of the club. This is important. Even though I’ve learned through mistakes, I’ve realised just how important the fans are in the managing of the club.
“Even though sometimes they don’t realise why you’ve made some choices, it is difficult to explain when you can’t communicate continually. Sometimes it’s not right to explain too much but the reality is that they own the club.
“Sometimes it is best to take a different direction to the one the average fan would take in the club’s best interest.
“In football, sometimes you need to make changes to management. Loyalty is important but in some cases it’s not healthy to keep people for 10-15 years like I have in other companies.
“I thought I could do the same in football but the reality is that it’s healthier that there is greater turnover in the key people.”
Was the best decision during your time the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa?
“Yes, 100 per cent among all the coaches. Not just because we played our best football under him. He transformed the culture of the club, the work ethic and the education, behaviour of the staff.
“He was excellent but as Marcelo has shown throughout his career, after a period of time, the demands he has of people around him can become a ‘boomerang’ in the sense that it can become saturated and people can suffer the stress.
“Sometimes the pressure can become stressful. We both remember at the end of the first season in the Premier League, we finished ninth.
“It was a brilliant season and I remember sitting down with Marcelo. He actually said, ‘you should change me or you should change all the players because we can’t do better than that unless we make changes’.
“He was aware the situation was at the limit. We decided to stay one extra year with a view to him becoming a director of football on top of the coach role.
“I wanted him to stay for as long as possible but the reality was that we knew the risk. Both of us knew the risk and so perhaps then was the right time to make the change.
“I wasn’t brave enough to make such a decision after finishing ninth in the league. For him, he also wanted to enjoy another season with the fans inside the stadium.
“The season we did very well, we couldn’t enjoy it with our fans because of Covid. These are circumstances we can always say, ‘what if’, but we can retain this legacy.
“I know I’m hated by some fans for sacking Marcelo but it was hard for me too because I know what he represented for the club. At that moment, I thought I was making the right decision for the club.”
Was it your decision to appoint Jesse Marsch?
“The summer before, [former sporting director] Victor [Orta] analysed about 40 coaches. He was preparing the club to select a coach that could carry on Marcelo’s legacy and his style of football.
“I remember sitting in my office watching the videos of match situations and training where from the drone camera you could see some very similar activities in the training between Marcelo and Jesse Marsch.
“I remember being shown by Victor Red Bull Salzburg vs Napoli and Red Bull Salzburg vs Liverpool in the Champions League and he compared it to Liverpool vs Leeds in the Premier League.
“It was interesting to see how in some situations the team performed very similarly. We identified him as the best coach to keep the legacy.
“The reality is that when Jesse arrived, he produced a miracle to save us from relegation, but it wasn’t really down to tactics.
“It was mainly due to the motivational impact that he had – being vocal, energetic and close to the players – exactly the opposite to Marcelo.
“Jesse did a great job in that time but over a longer period I was expecting to see the coach come out and to show a similar playing style to Marcelo.
“But this never happened. To be honest, I was very confused. The tactics that he showed sometimes were a bit confusing – not only for me but for the players.
“We had situations where a winger would be playing as a midfielder – things like that. Personally, I wanted to make a change before the World Cup, then I was persuaded to hold on.
!I think it was a huge mistake as we had the slot of six weeks to make changes. Other teams successfully used this period but we ended up making the change in February, with very few options.
“Javi [Gracia] tried his best but the team was physically not good enough and it’s not the same as it was under Marcelo.
“I was distant and quite passive in all these situations and just living in hope until the last month when I was desperate. I sent Javi and Victor home and tried to play magical cards with Sam [Allardyce].
“Maybe had Sam arrived earlier we could have done better, as he is a man of character, but he found a team on its knees, physically and mentally.”
Tell me about the role of Victor Orta. Do you understand why a lot of fans blame him for what’s gone wrong?
“Like every football director, you can make some good calls and some bad calls. He brought in players like Raphinha and he made other choices with less impact.
“It’s part of the job. For sure, if I could go back, I would be more careful on a couple of things.
“Firstly, unconditionally following Victor – who is very talented – during our phase of the club, being just in the Premier League for three years, could be dangerous.
“Why? Because Victor tended to focus his scouting on players who still had to show that they were good enough. His focus was on the potential next talent.
“The risk that you could find the next [star] player or not is higher – rather than buying a player who is either 27 or 28 years old.
“For a team like Leeds that needed to consolidate their position in the Premier League, if you spend over £100m in one transfer market in the summer, you have to consider having one or two players who are mature and have national team experience.
“Players who have character to stay on the pitch – and that is something we lack.
“I think Victor’s biggest challenge was the number of players and a coach that came in from the Austrian league with the expectation they could perform in the Premier League.
“With all respect, the gap is too big. But I am also responsible because I was here too. I have to take the blame at the same level as Victor but we took too many risks.
“We put good coaches, players, good professionals in positions, but maybe they needed another step before coming to the Premier League, the most difficult league in the world.”
There was a report in The Athletic that you used Elland Road as collateral to secure a loan to help buy Sampdoria. What really happened?
“First of all, who is there that knows better than me how important Elland Road is to the fans? This is the first thing I learned when I arrived at Leeds.
“I could keep the money in my pocket or buy a player, or buy a house, but I decided to put £20m towards buying Elland Road from a third party which owned the stadium.
“This was the first thing I did. This showed I understand what Elland Road means.
“I was involved in trying to find a solution to try to save Sampdoria from bankruptcy – which we did, luckily.
“In conversations with the bank, I offered my own group corporate guarantee as collateral for some financing and they asked about the stadium.
“In the end, we found a completely different solution but it was only part of the conversation. There’s been a lot of speculation around this. I understand the fans’ feelings but nothing happened in this way.”
Is the future of Elland Road 100 per cent secure and will it belong to the new owners of Leeds?
“Yes, it will. It was never the intention to risk Elland Road at all.”
Do you feel the criticism you received from the supporters is justified?
“The criticism over the club’s relegation is justified because I failed, so I’m happy to take this blame.
“I also ackowledge there are many fans who look at the full length of my ‘era’ at the club – the six years – and see it as a positive event.
“People with good memories will know exactly the club I inherited.”
How did it feel at the end of the season when you weren’t able to attend the last game?
“The players know me very well. Everyone who knows me and has met me at Leeds knows how close and supportive I am of the team.
“I’m always there at the key moments but there were a series of cirumstances which meant I wasn’t there [against Tottenham].
“A few days before, I had a check of my left eye and because I had the eye completely red. I thought it was an infection but I found out I had a bubble of water in the eye and this was caused by stress.
“The doctor advised that I didn’t take on more stress. He advised that I may in fact have to take surgery. I’ve lost a bit of visibility compared to the right eye, so that’s the reason I decided not to go to the game.
“I’ve shown in six years how much I care about the club. If I am able to go back for a game next season, I’d be happy to take it.”
You think one day you’ll go back to Elland Road?
“For sure, I have a lot of friends, and besides the big noise on social media, every time I go there I feel a lot of love.
“I remember after the 6-1 defeat to Liverpool, I was almost in tears as I had a lot of people waiting outside wanting to have a picture.
“After this defeat in my country, this could never happen. This shows a lot and tells you how the real fans are and how much they understand.”
What would be your message to the Leeds supporters who are watching this interview?
“I want them to know that the club is in good hands. I’m sure if they don’t bounce back immediately under the 49ers, I’m sure they will come back to the Premier League.
“When they come back, they will have more means and more resources than I could do, so I’m pretty sure they will do better than me.
“I’m sure they will want to renovate the stadium and to invest long term. That’s what Leeds fans deserve and I can tell them that I did my best.
“I’m sorry that in the end it wasn’t enough for the last six months. Maybe I could’ve done better but I really tried hard.”
Just how hard is it to be a Premier League owner? Given the competition these days, did you feel at times it’s the impossible job?
“I love it as I’m an outsider. This is the dream for everyone. People speak about wanting to live the life I live. It was my dream too. It was my dream and I lived it.
“There is maybe hope there for everybody. If you work hard, maybe you can one day have the money to buy your own football club.”
Do you think you will own another club in England?
“It will never be like Leeds, but why not? But I would see it not such much as a passion but rather an investment opportunity with other partners.
“But yes, why not? If there is a club that requires an intervention, and we see and opportunity, then why not?”