'He has that nastiness' - Lewis Bate's journey from Chelsea schoolboy to Leeds United prospect

Leeds United’s sporting director Victor Orta is well versed in selling the Thorp Arch dream these days.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 11:45 am
New Leeds United midfielder Lewis Bate. Pic: LUFC

Leeds United’s sporting director Victor Orta is well versed in selling the Thorp Arch dream these days.

The Whites have been aggressive in their academy recruitment since his arrival to West Yorkshire in 2017.

United’s investment in youth was an early priority for Orta’s scouting department as incoming owner Andrea Radrizzani tasked him with a rebuild four years ago.

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A step up to top-tier academy status last summer has helped as Leeds attracted the likes of Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood and Cody Drameh to LS11.

Now another step up into the highest division of England’s elite competitive youth structure has helped again.

Chelsea’s Lewis Bate might yet be the biggest coup for Leeds in their dealings at development level. The 18-year-old is an England youth international who has been moulded since the age of eight by the Stamford Bridge club.

The Blues’ packed senior ranks mean that any homegrown talent coming through has to be the best of the best. Mason Mount – someone Bate is said to have looked up to as a role model at Chelsea – is one of few who have managed to break the recent mould in West London.

Chelsea severely bloat their squad with the best talent money can buy from across Europe and often like to utilise the loan system for their rising stars.

Bate was thought of as among a group of players who could be one of those similar to Mount but his pathway has been severely blocked with the reigning Champions League winners.

Highly-rated Billy Gilmour – one of those ahead and of a similar age and position to Bate – has found game time hard to come by and will now spend the year with Norwich City in the top flight.

If Gilmour couldn’t break through in Thomas Tuchel’s packed midfield, what chance did Bate have?

Those in West London believe he was extremely unlucky not to claim the club’s academy player of the year last term after being one of the standout stars.

Bate was a regular in the Premier League 2 and FA Youth Cup last season and was even named on the senior bench against Sheffield United and Bayern Munich under former boss Frank Lampard before his sacking.

He is known as somewhat of a tenacious leader in the dressing room and out on the pitch – having taken the armband on a number of occasions at various age groups. Bate likes to control games as a deep-lying midfielder with the odd crunching tackle and driving run.

He does, though, boast versatility and that is a trait required at Elland Road under head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

“He’s probably most naturally a six but he can play as an eight,” Goal’s Nizaar Kinsella told the YEP.

“He’s got a really good final ball which is one of his big traits. He has a brilliant left foot, likes a crossfield pass and is a good dribbler.

“He is quite similar to Mateo Kovačić at Chelsea who dribbles through central midfield to break the press – which probably means he could be an eight as well.

“I think that would suit him. He does get stuck in and he’s defensively strong. I don’t think the physicality is quite there yet but technically he is great. He takes set-pieces as well.

“He puts himself about and does have that nastiness to his game. I think that is a big part of his game, really.”

It was in Chelsea’s Under-15s when Lampard’s assistant and ex-Whites player Jody Morris first caught a glimpse of Bate in action.

The story goes that a heavy but fair tackle left the then academy manager Morris dancing around on the touchline in delight.

Bate went on to lead his side to the treble that season while Morris later moved to Derby County as assistant to Lampard before the pair returned to the capital as top dogs in 2019. His refusal to pen a longer term contract was borne out of a lack of opportunity and long-term promises of first-team involvement.

While Morris was around, Bate had a chance. So his departure in January spelled the beginning of the end.

It is United’s gain that they have managed to land Bate’s services among strong interest from Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton. Under Bielsa there is a clearer pathway to Premier League football than at most clubs and it seems that has been the clincher for Leeds.

Orta has sold the dream again and Bate wants in – something which seems to be a recurring theme in recent transfer windows.

AFC Wimbledon enquired about taking him on loan last summer though Chelsea refused their advances. Upon reflection it may have actually been a move which was of greater benefit to his long-term progress.

“In a weird way he’s probably more suited to the Premier League because he is so technically gifted,” Kinsella added.

“In the EFL you can be a little lost if you drop to League One. He may have found that a little tough. In academy football he’s probably as good as it gets at his age group.

“I think he may look at what Manchester City have done with Phil Foden in recent years and seen that as a route that is more suited to him – being in and around the first team while playing academy football.

“You would say he is probably Championship level at the moment but that is actually a huge compliment given his age. It means that with the right training in a few years he could be a world beater.”

For now, the Premier League 2 and regular football under Mark Jackson’s Under-23s watch along with a meeting with his old club are in the immediate future.

Bate, though, looks like another one to watch.