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‘New Lionel Messi’ admits he was set to sign for Leeds but deal collapsed

Former Barcelona starlet Ilias Akhomach admits he was set to sign for Leeds United before their relegation from the Premier League with Villarreal eventually keeping the winger in La Liga. 

According to Diario Sport, a deal to bring the Camp Nou graduate to Elland Road last summer – his Barcelona contract was expiring and he was keen on a fresh start – was ‘practically done’ at one stage. 

That was, however, until the departure of Victor Orta, Leeds United’s former director of football who had worked closely with Ilias Akhomach in negotiations. If that was a pothole in the road, then Leeds’ relegation a few weeks later was the final nail in the proverbial coffin. 

Barcelona Athletic v CE Sabadell - Primera Federacion
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Leeds United’s Ilias Akhomach deal fell through

“I was going to go to the Premier League. That’s the truth,” Ilias tells Relevo. “But then I thought about it very carefully with my family. The director (Orta) left, there were many changes, Leeds went down to the second division… 

“There was something I didn’t like about going to Leeds. There was a lot of change.”

Sport adds that Javi Gracia – one of five coaches to sit in the Leeds dugout during a traumatic 2022/23 season – had played an important role in discussions too. That was until he followed Orta out the door in the spring. 

The Spain U21 international, once labelled the ‘new Lionel Messi’ by former Barcelona academy chief Patrick Kluivert, then put pen to paper with a club far closer to home, signing for Villarreal on a four-year deal. 

Now at Villarreal

“Villarreal saw that I didn’t make up my mind and took the plunge,” Ilias adds. “I didn’t even think about it, especially when I saw the sporting progression they wanted for me.  

RCD Mallorca v Villarreal CF - LaLiga EA Sports
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“That’s what I was looking at. The money is not important at the moment. I wanted to go somewhere to play, to be in a good league, and on top of that I’m next to Barcelona. My agent did everything possible and Barca behaved incredibly.

“I’m very happy to have taken that decision.”

Ilias has made five La Liga appearances for Villarreal so far, producing one assist.

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