Ian Harte, the former Leeds United left-back, has launched an extraordinary attack on Leeds’ academy recruitment plan, accusing the club of signing “too many foreign players” and “losing its identity” at Under-23 level.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Harte criticised the swathe of development-squad signings made by United and claimed the current Under-23 side lacked “passion and desire to wear the LUFC shirt” after watching a 2-2 draw between United and Birmingham City earlier today.
Harte, who works as an agent and represents academy players at Leeds, was present as United and Birmingham contested a professional development league match at Thorp Arch this afternoon.
United’s 16-man squad included nine English or Irish players including two of Harte’s clients, left-back Tyler Denton and striker Jack Clarke. A number of other British players, including midfielder Jamie Shackleton, were unavailable. Eighteen-year-old centre-back Liam Kitching is currently on loan at Harrogate Town.
Harte, however, questioned the make-up of the Under-23, writing: “all I could hear was Spanish been (sic) spoken by players and manager.”
United later hit back in a statement, saying “a player or a coach should be picked on their talent and not their passport”.
Leeds appointed a Spaniard, the former Villarreal assistant Carlos Corberan, as their Under-23 coach last summer and have a large Spanish contingent at a senior management level, including head coach Thomas Christiansen – a Spain international as a player – and director of football Victor Orta.
The Championship club have embarked on a large recruitment drive for their academy in the past six months, bringing in players from across Europe.
The January transfer window saw centre-back Pascal Struijk sign from Ajax Amsterdam, forward Oliver Sarkic complete a permanent move from Benfica and Finnish defender Aapo Halme join from HJK Helsinki. Leeds, however, also recruited Leyton Orient striker Sam Dalby and Forest Green Rovers midfielder Jordan Stevens.
Writing on Twitter, Harte said: “Fuming tonight, went to watch LUFC Under 23s v Birmingham. Leeds is losing its identity, as all I could hear was Spanish been spoken by players and manager!!!
“We are a club that has over years and years brought through quality players. But what I witnessed is players lacking passion, desire to wear the LUFC shirt with pride!!! Needs sorting ASAP.
“Everyone knows I love LUFC but too many foreign players in 23s not good enough and killing the younger players pathway!!! Andrea (Radrizzani, United’s chairman) and Victor are very good!!! But something needs addressing ASAP.”
Harte was himself a product of Leeds’ academy, joining United from Home Farm in Ireland as a teenager in the 1990s. He went onto make more than 200 league appearances for the club and played in the Champions League during the 2000-01 season.
In response to his comments, a United statement read: “We believe that a player or a coach should be picked on their talent and not their passport.
“Additionally, nine of the 16-man matchday squad for today’s game come from the UK and Ireland and in midweek two English academy products (Romario Vieira and Tom Pearce) made the bench for our game with Hull City.
“We are proud of our academy and the players who represent us at all age groups.”
Leeds, under Corberan, are seventh in their development league after six wins from 21 games.