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The £1 million deal with Birmingham City gave West Brom the last laugh.

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Both West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City are based in and around the second city, and they have a long-standing rivalry.

Indeed, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City are two of the three teams involved in what is commonly referred to as the West Midlands derby, with Aston Villa being the third. This derby holds significant importance for both clubs and their supporters.

Over the past 15 years, both West Brom and Birmingham have experienced fluctuating fortunes in the Championship, with West Brom having enjoyed more success, including several seasons in the Premier League.

Despite their rivalry, the two clubs have occasionally shared players, although such transfers are relatively rare, particularly in recent times. When such moves occur, the selling club often hopes to benefit from the deal, potentially weakening their rivals in the process.

One notable example of a player transferring between the two clubs is Jonathan Leko.

Leko tipped for big things at the Hawthorns

Jonathan Leko

Jonathan Leko’s journey at West Bromwich Albion began at a young age, having joined the club’s academy at the age of 11. Highly regarded for his talents, he impressed academy staff with his understanding of the game and creative abilities, particularly during his time at the U14 level.

At just 16 years old, Leko made waves by earning a spot on the first team’s pre-season tour in 2015, showcasing his potential. He continued to impress and made his debut in the 2015/16 season, becoming the first player born in 1999 to start a Premier League game. His performances earned him a professional contract with West Brom at the end of that season.

Despite showing promise, Leko struggled for regular game time in subsequent seasons, making only nine Premier League appearances in the following campaign. A loan spell at Bristol City in the Championship during the 2017/18 season yielded limited success, prompting his recall in January 2018.

His opportunities at West Brom became increasingly scarce, and he made just three appearances in the Championship during the 2018/19 season. A loan move to Charlton Athletic for the 2019/20 season was intended to reignite his career, but unfortunately, it was cut short by an ACL injury just before Christmas, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

Following his injury and lack of opportunities at West Brom, Leko made the move to Birmingham City in August 2020 for a reported fee of £1 million. This marked the end of his tenure at West Bromwich Albion and the beginning of a new chapter with their Midlands rivals, Birmingham City.

Birmingham deal did not go according to plan

Jonathan Leko Birmingham City

Leko’s time at the Blues did not go as many would have hoped.

His first season at St Andrew’s would end without a goal or an assist in 34 games. From there on his time at Birmingham got worse.

The next season he would then be shipped out on loan, rejoining Charlton, now in League One. He would score three goals in 30 appearances for the Addicks.

After a mediocre loan with Charlton, he would return to Birmingham, making eight substitute appearances before moving permanently to MK Dons for an undisclosed fee.

Jonathan Leko’s career stats (as of 29/02/24, as per FotMo)
Years at club Club Appearances Goals
2015 – 2020 West Brom 23 1
2017 – 2018 Bristol City (Loan) 11 0
2019 Charlton (Loan) 21 5
2020 – 2023 Birmingham 50 1
2021 – 2022 Charlton (Loan) 30 3
2023 – Present MK Dons 46 8
2024 Burton (Loan) 1 0

It seems that despite promising beginnings at West Brom, Leko’s time there was marred by injury heartbreak, which likely hindered his progress. Subsequently, Birmingham took a significant gamble by investing £1 million in him, hoping to benefit from his potential. However, the outcome was ultimately deemed a failure.

In hindsight, it appears that West Brom emerged as the victors in this scenario, perhaps through their ability to mitigate risks or capitalize on other opportunities. Whether through superior scouting, management decisions, or simply luck, West Brom seems to have come out on top compared to Birmingham’s costly gamble on Leko.

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