By George Overhill

21st Jul, 2022 | 3:40pm

Leeds United retreat in Charles De Ketelaere race seized upon by Paolo Maldini, £34m 'ally' lost

AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has seized on Leeds United stepping back to squeeze Club Brugge in transfer talks, Calcio Mercato reports.

Jesse Marsch admitted on Wednesday (20 July) that while the Whites were not entirely out of the running, they felt that top target Charles De Ketelaere would be unavailable, with the Serie A champions in pole position.

United were willing to offer a club-record of around €40million to sign the 21-year-old Belgium international, while the Italians have never got up to such a level, so far maxing out at €30million.

But Leeds are perceived to have conceded the race at the San Siro, according to Calcio Mercato, and the apparent disappearance of their superior offer is now being used against the selling club by Maldini who claims they have lost an “ally”.

After flying to Belgium for talks he has returned home “smiling” while he relies on the player, who wants Milan above all, to push it through since Brugge supposedly can’t point to Premier League money.

To the Belgians’ CEO Vincent Mannaert, CM reports: “Maldini has openly said that Brugge can no longer be strong on the figures put in place by the British, in the meantime having left the scene.”

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Not so fast

It is common knowledge that Milan are in the box seat to sign De Ketelaere but Leeds have stuck this one out longer than many would think worthwhile.

Therefore, much as the Italians might like to contend they are the only option they do still have to cough up to get their man.

The Whites are willing to do so, despite a lukewarm response from the young attacker, so the Rossoneri can’t use Leeds’ position as a bargaining chip in their favour.

It still seems pretty unlikely that he ends up at Elland Road, and it can’t be ruled out that Brugge are well aware of that and are only keeping the higher offer in the background as their own negotiation tool.

But while it is there it is legitimate from United’s end so it has to be treated so.

If the Belgians are willing to accept less to let their prized asset make the move he wants that is their prerogative, but for now at least Victor Orta is still hovering ready to pick up the pieces if not.

In other Leeds United news, Phil Hay has shared a belief from one mega-rich team that they can turn a key Whites player’s head as a crucial point in his deal arrives.