NEWLY crowned English Championship winners Leeds United have become the front runners to sign Nigerian playmaker Ebere Eze after the conclusion of the league yesterday that saw Leeds and West Bromwich Albion (WBA) promoted to the Premier League.
Yesterday, the English Championship ended with Leeds United lifting the trophy as champions and WBA joining them as the second team to be promoted automatically. There will now be a four-horse race for the third place via the play-offs involving Brentford, Fulham, Cardiff and Swansea.
In a dramatic last day yesterday, WBA clinched the second automatic spot after playing a 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) at the Hawthornes. Super Eagles centreback Semi Ajayi manned the WBA defence during the game, while Nigerian mercurial playmaker Eze featured for QPR, capping off a memorial game with a sublime second half goal.
Ajayi is now set to join other Nigerians in the Premier League including the likes of Alex Iwobi at Everton, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi at Leicester City and Odion Ighalo at Manchester United. Eze, 22, who has been a key target for Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr, who wants to see him commit to playing for Nigeria, is certain to join them too as there has been a flood of enquiries for his services.
Seen as the closest thing to JJ Okocha, Eze is one of those rare creative midfielders who can open up defences, which has led to the likes of Tottenham Hotspurs, Crystal Palace and West ham to all enquire about his services. However, Leeds United may now be the favourites to sign him as its manager Marcelo Bielsa is one of the brightest brains in the game and Eze would relish the opportunity to play under him.
Bielsa has identified Eze as the creative spark his team will need next season and is ready to outbid Spurs, West Ham and Crystal Palace for his services. Leeds first declared its interest in Eze in January and told QPR that they would come in with a firm bid if the club gets promoted.
Eze, who has scored 13 goals and provided eight assists this season, is valued at £20m by QPR, who had feared that price would drop as a result of the pandemic which has restricted the spending ability of every club. However, with so much competition for the attacking midfielder QPR are still hoping to get close to the full asking price for their star player.
Master tactician Bielsa has made it clear to Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani that Eze is exactly the kind of prospect his team should be looking to sign. Highly ambitious Radrizzani is certain to sanction the move as this week he has been speaking about the possibility of bringing veteran superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani to Elland Road as free agents.
However, the £200,000-a-week wage demands of both ageing players would be way beyond Leeds’ reach and Eze would be a much more realistic long-term investment. QPR boss Mark Warburton is resigned to losing Eze this summer as his club struggle to make ends meet as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Warburton has already agreed a £4.75m fee with Brugge for Nigerian-born winger Bright Osayi-Samuel but has been allowed to spend £2.1m of that money to sign striker Kieffer Moore from hard-up Wigan. Like Eze, Osayi-Samuel is also eligible to play for the Super Eagles and coach Rohr will no doubt have them both in his sights.