After 16 long years away from the Premier League, Leeds United’s preparations for their first season back in the top flight are well underway.
Marcelo Bielsa has already secured the signing of forward Hélder Costa, with the former Wolves man making his loan move to Elland Road permanent for a fee in the region of £16m.
However, with only Patrick Bamford notching double figures in the league for Leeds last season, Bielsa is keen to bolster his attacking options further.
90min exclusively revealed this week that Girona frontman Cristhian Stuani is being monitored by the Whites, a player Leeds director Victor Orta knows well having worked with him during their time at Middlesbrough.
Stuani’s time on Teesside was far from prolific, with his 59 league games gleaning just 11 goals (and only four of those coming in the top flight).
However, since departing the Riverside in 2017, the Uruguay international has enjoyed three outstanding seasons in Spain, scoring 69 goals in 101 league appearances, including 40 La Liga strikes.
So how is it that a player who scraped his way to double figures after two years in England was at one point keeping up with Lionel Messi in La Liga's goalscoring charts? And are Leeds in danger of buying a player who just isn’t suited to the English game?
Stuani was brought to Middlesbrough by Aitor Karanka. A former pupil of José Mourinho, the Spaniard's ethos was very much ‘start with a solid base and work your way up’.
It didn’t make for pretty viewing at times, but Boro boasted the meanest defence in the league, conceding just 31 goals in 46 games during Stuani’s first season at the club. However, the defensive mindset and rigid formation was far from ideal for a forward player looking to express himself.
Not only was the Uruguayan playing in a team which was set up not to concede rather than to score, he was also deployed on the right wing, a position he couldn’t have looked less suited to.
Despite being played out of position, the main thing that was asked of Stuani was that he worked for the team and stuck to the system as much as possible, and to his credit that’s exactly what he did.
There was no sulking, moaning or refusing to play, the forward displayed the upmost professionalism and gave 100% every time he featured.
Based on this it’s not difficult to see why Bielsa has pinpointed the former Espanyol man as a potential target. Anyone who plays in a Bielsa side needs to be willing to work and the Argentinian taskmaster won’t accept passengers.
Despite being played out of position in nearly every one of the 59 league games he played in England, Stuani still managed to chip in with some absolutely crucial goals during his time on Teesside.
The Uruguayan had a knack for scoring big goals on big occasions, with his strike on the final day against Brighton securing promotion to the Premier League at the expense of their opponents, and his double against Sunderland notching Boro a famous derby win and their first victory back in the top flight.
On This Day: 7th May 2016— Middlesbrough FC - Hartlepool Mail (@Boro_Mail) May 7, 2020
'WE'RE GOING UP!'#Boro won promotion back to the Premier League after seven years away.
A nervy final-day meeting with Brighton ended 1-1 after Cristhian Stuani had put Aitor Karanka's side ahead at the Riverside.
What are your memories of that day❓ pic.twitter.com/2vjCMD4CFD
It’s clear to see what Bielsa sees in the Girona forward. Hard working, a good attitude and a clinical goalscorer when the chance presents itself.
In truth, the 33-year-old is the perfect Bielsa signing, and with Bamford seemingly unable to deal with pressure that comes from being the main man at a club like Leeds, having a backup who has featured 50 times for Uruguay and appeared in two World Cups is certainly something that will appeal to the Whites boss.
The only reason Stuani’s first spell in England didn’t work out was because Boro didn’t use him properly. Had he been afforded the chance to play in his preferred central position, he’d likely have scored just as many as he has at Girona.
Undoubtedly a missed chance for Boro, but with Leeds’ attacking play and adventurous widemen, there’s every chance Stuani could finally make a significant impact should he be afforded a second chance in English football.