Georginio Rutter’s impressive season to date in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim has given rise to his transfer to the Premier League’s Leeds United for a fee reported to be in the region of €40m. The West Yorkshire club have opted to topple their record fee paid for a player, having signed Brenden Aaronson last summer for €35m. Leeds are subtly building an elegant squad, rife with players with the required technical fundamentals and star potential. But whilst Rutter undoubtedly adds to the ascending capacity of a squad built with watchful measure, questions remain as to whether current manager Jesse Marsch is the man to extract every ounce of its heightening quality, casting lingering doubts over the idea that joining Leeds makes for the ideal career move.
Frenchman Rutter was born and raised in the north-western town of Plescop, before a successful youth career saw him become a member of France’s famed class of 2002 alongside the likes of Eduardo Camavinga, Kamaldeen Sulemana, and Hugo Ekitike. Rapid progress awaited the prodigy; after impressing for the club’s reserves in domestic and UEFA Youth League appearances, he made his senior Ligue 1 debut in September 2020. Rutter also netted on his Champions League debut in December that year as Rennes were defeated 3-1 at home by Sevilla in what remains the youngster’s only appearance in the competition.
But whilst his career trajectory was presumed to take shape at the French club, Rutter spontaneously decided that a different path was most conducive to his flourishing. With a variety of clubs from all over Europe having tracked him for a significant period of time, it was Hoffenheim that made the most substantial move, with the Sinsheim club agreeing to a four-and-a-half-year deal with the player in January 2021. His debut for the club arrived just weeks later, as he announced his arrival in style. Rutter notched his first Bundesliga goal with a thunderous left-footed strike as his Hoffenheim side dismantled German giants Werder Bremen 4-0.
Rutter’s stock has skyrocketed ever since, largely due to an outstanding 2021/22 campaign. He made 33 Bundesliga appearances in all, scoring eight times and providing two assists. Rutter’s game has gone from strength to strength, with the youngster having proved himself to be one of the Bundesliga’s most valuable young players by becoming an integral part of Andre Breitenreiter’s well-drilled side. But his augmenting quality is best exemplified and encapsulated by a France U21 call-up in combination with a deserved Golden Boy nomination.
Rutter has managed just two goals and two assists this time round, in 15 Bundesliga games. Goalscoring has certainly been a concern, though the truth is that he offers far more than simply prodding the ball home. The Frenchman is an adept presser and fulfiller of key defensive duties, which represents point number one for why he acts as a suitable fit for a Marsch side. Rutter can also acutely provide a sprinkling of counter-attacking flair in transition, underpinned by his willingness to get on the ball along with his evident comfort on it. His aerial ability has also been frequently noted as an area in which the centre-forward can impact the game, thus providing Leeds with an aerial box threat.
Rutter is very much a ball-to-feet kind of player, rather than someone who exists simply to get on the end of things. Though if a team is looking to play modern football characterised by pressing, team synergy, and positional fluidity, then that is certainly preferable. On the latter, Rutter is primarily a centre-forward but is entirely comfortable operating in wider flanks. Technically gifted enough to play anywhere across the frontline, the France U21 international can function with equal precision as a lone striker or as part of a front-two pairing.
Whilst Rutter’s distinct lack of goals immediately strikes a degree of concern, it probably isn’t something Leeds need to worry about. Marsch’s side have scored 25 goals in the Premier League this season, which is the second most of any side currently occupying a position in the bottom half of the table. Only Leicester City have scored more (26).
It’s of course Rodrigo who appears to be Leeds’ primary goalscoring threat, with the Spaniard so far having scored more times than any other Leeds player, and by some distance (11 goals). But beyond him, the goals have been distributed somewhat equitably. Crysencio Summerville, Luis Sinisterra, and Wilfried Gnonto have all been able to chip in with the odd goal whilst simultaneously creating opportunities for others in this Leeds team. This is fundamentally why Rutter will not arrive in Yorkshire with a burden of expectation in terms of goal output. Perhaps Rodrigo’s record in front of goal would take a slight dip if Rutter were to replace him as centre-forward, but the point remains that the share of goals in this Leeds team seems sufficiently spread out so that any single player avoids being overburdened.
According to Wyscout, Rutter has attempted 10.37 dribbles per 90 minutes this season, significantly more than Gnonto (6.09) and Rodrigo (1.89). His proactivity from the front can also inject a fruitful radiance into the team, with the 20-year-old having completed 7.01 attacking actions per 90: once again more than Gnonto (5.03) and Rodrigo (2.78). It’s therefore clear that Rutter marks an upgrade on Leeds’ current attacking options in areas of the game that have little to do with sheer goalscoring numbers.
In Rutter, Leeds are unquestionably adding a fine young player with a very-high ceiling, infusing their promising squad with further ability. Obviously though, potential alone is not enough to lift Leeds out of a relegation dogfight and extinguish the current doom and gloom at Elland Road. Someone is actually going to have to turn a bright squad into a well-performing group, and it remains to be seen if Marsch will be that man. Rutter is not joining a great side here and will presumably be confronted with a group low on confidence.
Though it’s a great deal for Hoffenheim, with the club profiting hugely on a player they were likely not going to keep for much longer anyway. Rutter therefore becomes the next cab off the rank in terms of Hoffenheim’s player sales to the Premier League after the likes of Roberto Firmino and Joelinton left Baden-Württemberg for careers in England. Rutter is certainly an exciting signing for Leeds, but patience will doubtlessly be required.
GGFN | James Westmacott