Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (2024)

Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (1)

By Jay Harris and David Ornstein

Jul 2, 2024

On Saturday afternoon, Brentford thought they had pulled off the biggest transfer in the club’s history. Head coach Thomas Frank and technical director Lee Dykes had led a charm offensive to convince Archie Gray to join them from Leeds United — and it looked like it had worked.

Gray only made his senior debut for Leeds last August, but Brentford were prepared to pay £40million ($50.6m) for the 18 year old, which would have eclipsed the €36.5million fee they paid to sign Igor Thiago from Club Bruges in February. Gray completed a medical at their training ground in west London and it looked like they had beaten off competition from top sides across Europe for his signature.

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Yet, by Sunday morning, he had slipped out of their grasp and been swayed instead by the project being pitched by Tottenham Hotspur. The midfielder agreed to join Spurs on a six-year contract, bringing to an end a saga that had been rumbling on for weeks. Leeds relieved their financial concerns by banking such a significant sum of money — but waving goodbye to an academy graduate will have left a bitter taste.

This is the inside story of a manic 48 hours that saw Gray nearly join Brentford, tell Leeds to turn down their offer — and then end up at Spurs.

Leeds knew they would have to sell one or two of their key players this summer. They lost the Championship play-off final 1-0 to Southampton and missed out on promotion to the Premier League — and there were financial consequences to that.

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Crysencio Summerville, who won the Championship’s player of the season award for 2023-24, appeared to top the list of saleable assets. Leeds’ hierarchy was also open to the departures of Illan Meslier and Willy Gnonto but accepted Gray could command a substantial fee. Gray’s contract included a £35million release clause which was active while Leeds were in the second tier.

From the moment the play-off final ended in defeat, interest in Gray began to build. There were admirers across the Premier League and elsewhere, with Borussia Dortmund also being known as a fan of the player.

Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (3)

Gray as Leeds lost the play-off final (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

The problem for Leeds, when it came to potentially selling Gray, was as much his surname as it was his serious potential. Gray is a third-generation Leeds player, with his father Andy and his grandfather Frank both having played for the club. His great uncle, Eddie, is Leeds royalty, having played for, managed and coached the side over an association that began in 1965. Eddie holds an ambassadorial role and regularly attends Leeds games.

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Although the club were open to selling Summerville, the problem was that they did not receive any offers that matched their valuation — or that he was interested in. Leeds were under pressure to raise funds by June 30 (Sunday) to address financial concerns around profit and sustainability rules (PSR) and by the end of the week, it was clear there was no chance of Summerville being sold by the end of the accounting period. The lack of viable offers ramped up the need to sell Gray. If Summerville had left, the pressure to sell Gray might not have been so intense.

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Gray’s camp had been assessing their options ever since the play-off final loss because they were under the impression there was a strong chance that Leeds would be required to sell him. However, Gray made it clear throughout the process that his preference was to remain at Elland Road. At no stage did he ask to move on. By the end of this week, when it came to the crunch, the most realistic options for the England Under-21 international were a move to either Brentford or Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham’s recruitment department has been revamped over the last 12 months and is now led by technical director Johan Lange. There is a much stronger emphasis on using data to identify targets and they have been scouting for young players who are ready to make an instant impact in the first team but still have significant room for growth. Gray’s arrival continues a trend that started in the winter window with the signings of Radu Dragusin (22) and Lucas Bergvall (18).

They have Lange’s hard work to thank for getting this deal done. The Dane was in daily contact with Gray’s camp for weeks as Spurs pursued the transfer, with Daniel Levy joining him in putting in the hours to successfully get the deal over the line in recent days.

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Gray spent most of last season at right-back but prefers to play in midfield. Spurs see him primarily as a midfielder, although with the bonus of having that versatility in his locker. Competition for a spot in midfield will be fierce, with James Maddison, Pape Matar Sarr, Rodrigo Bentancur, Oliver Skipp, Yves Bissouma and Bergvall all vying for three places in the starting XI, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg expected to leave, but Gray is happy with the amount of game time that he has been assured of at Spurs

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Gray’s name will be added to the list of talented young players Brentford have had near misses with over the last few years.

In the summer of 2022, they agreed a deal with Shakhtar Donetsk to sign Mykhailo Mudryk. Then the Ukrainian club increased their asking price, Brentford walked away and Mudryk joined Chelsea six months later. Last year, Brentford thought they had convinced PSV Eindhoven winger Johan Bakayoko to join them. The Belgian international changed his mind after helping PSV beat Rangers to qualify for the Champions League group stages. In January, Brentford came close to prizing Antonio Nusa from Club Bruges only for issues with his medical to put them off.

For a few hours on Saturday, it looked like they had finally bucked that trend. Gray was impressed by Brentford’s presentation, which was led by Frank and Dykes. They use detailed video analysis to show exactly how prospective signings will fit into the team and talk about the pathway for individuals. Frank spoke to Gray several times over the last couple of weeks in an attempt to convince him. Gray underwent a medical and Brentford notified Leeds they were prepared to meet the release clause.

Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (6)

Frank was part of Brentford’s presentation to Gray (Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

Frank has relied on the same central midfield combination of Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard and Vitaly Janelt for the last four seasons. It is an area of the squad in need of an injection of fresh ideas and energy, which is why the pursuit of Gray made perfect sense.

Brentford have a track record of developing young players and helping them progress their careers to the next level, with recent examples including Aaron Hickey and Keane Lewis-Potter. Gray could have been confident about receiving lots of playing time, but by Saturday evening he was starting to have doubts.

At this point, there were further conversations with Leeds, which included chairman Paraag Marathe. Gray’s younger brother, Harry, is in the Leeds academy — another link between the Gray family and Elland Road — and it was certainly not a case of a player trying to force a move to a club playing at a higher level. Though Gray left no doubt he was happy to remain at Leeds and that option was a possibility, there was frustration among those close to Gray about how the situation was handled and the pressure it created. The deal made business sense to Leeds under the circ*mstances.

The midfielder woke up on Sunday morning needing to make a big decision. After his conversations with Leeds, he told them to reject Brentford’s offer. They were only able to do so because Gray did not want to move to Brentford. By mid-morning on Sunday, he was on his way to speak with Spurs in person. Conversations between his camp and Tottenham had got them to a place where both sides were happy with the terms being offered. It meant Brentford were about to lose out on a player to Spurs for the second summer in a row — Gray following Brennan Johnson to north London rather than west.

Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (7)

Gray had to make a decision on Sunday (George Wood/Getty Images)

It helps that Spurs came fifth in Postecoglou’s debut season, and qualified for the Europa League. They were viewed as a bigger step up than Brentford, who finished 16th.

For Tottenham, it represents another shrewd piece of business. They are packing Postecoglou’s squad with exciting young players who could forge the spine of the starting XI for the next decade.

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For Leeds, the bitter furore online after Brentford emerged as suitors on Saturday was a harsh lesson for the club’s owner, 49ers Enterprises, about the ferocity of fan sentiment at Elland Road. The deal also puts the club in a really healthy position in terms of PSR, with any further exits this summer on the club’s terms.

For some with longer memories in Yorkshire, this might still feel painfully familiar. In 2005, Leeds desperately needed cash and sold 18-year-old Aaron Lennon to Tottenham after a year in the Championship in which he gave them hope of better days ahead.

It took fifteen years for Leeds to return to the Premier League after that sale. The hope this time around is that selling one of their most highly-regarded young talents in years will ultimately aid their hopes of a quick return to the top flight.

Additional reporting: Nancy Froston

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Inside Archie Gray's move to Spurs, his exit from Leeds, and a manic 48 hours (2024)
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