Simon Rix: The star quality of Leeds United’s under 23s means the future is bright
For as long as I can remember the Leeds United Academy has been churning out winners: Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate, Paul Robinson, James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Johnny Howson, Fabian Delph, Lewis Cook... it’s a pretty endless and impressive list.
But we’ve always seen their time at Elland Road cut short. This is rarely due to their desire to leave and mostly motivated by [very small] financial gains for people up top without Leeds’ best intentions at heart. I’ve talked a lot in this column about how great things are in the first team at the moment, and I think one of the things we all celebrated during Bielsa’s tenure, is the rise and rise of Leeds’ own Kalvin Phlillips.
Looking deeper though, things look even more exciting. I urge every Leeds fan to start watching the under 23’s games when they can. An extra dose of Bielsa-ball to enrich your week. Not only do you occasionally get to see Rodrigo playing against a group of teenagers, you also get a glimpse of future hopefuls. And the future’s bright. Will all of these players be able to step up to play Champions League football with Leeds United in a couple of years, maybe not, but fingers crossed at least couple of them can make it. Another assured performance on Monday saw Charlie Cresswell doing a turn Maradona would be proud of, before heading home from a few yards for the second goal of the match. Max Dean is another one to keep an eye on, with 4 goals in eight appearances for the u23’s despite being only 17.
In the summer Victor Orta bolstered the academy with players brought in from other stomping grounds. Gelhardt and Greenwood are probably getting the most attention and rightly so, but I think my pick might be Cody Drameh (above, centre). Signed from Fulham for £400k and looking like a tailor-made replacement for Luke Ayling. One of the biggest bargains since...well Luke Ayling. With our league status secure, will Bielsa take a punt on a few more of these players. It would be nice to finish as high as possible in the table but it would also be really exciting to see if any of these new bloods get some minutes. I don’t have many good memories of Terry Venables at Leeds, but he was the guy who took a chance on a young James Milner from the U16s and gave him a chance in the first team. My imprinted memory of Milner’s first few games are of his goals against Sunderland and Chelsea, where this skinny kid just came out of nowhere and knocked it out of park . But actually his first involvement was coming on late against West Ham, and giving the ball straight to Di Canio, I don’t think it’s news to say that any young players need minutes on the pitch to bed in, and as we head towards the end of a successful season, I hope there’s a little bit of time for that to happen. With Leeds going in the right direction again it feels like there is no reason one of these youngsters couldn’t stick with the club for 10 to 15 years. To be our Steven Gerrard or our Gary Neville in white. Who knows if a few of them can get some games under their belts, maybe we can finally have someone challenging Big Jack’s all time appearances record.