"He wouldn’t score past me!" Charlie Cresswell on his Leeds United influences as youngsters eye Marcelo Bielsa's first team

CHARLIE Cresswell says Leeds United’s young stars are champing at the bit to be handed first-team opportunities in the club’s second season in the Premier League.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 4:30 pm

United’s 2020-21 success story was extended to the club’s Under-23s who stormed to promotion as Premier League Two – Division Two champions.

Mark Jackson’s side will consequently be facing the country’s best Academy talent and development sides next season in the PL2’s top tier.

But Under-23s captain Cresswell says the club’s young stars having their eyes on stepping out for Leeds in the Premier League is what matters most next term.

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THE FUTURE: Captain Charlie Cresswell and the rest of the Leeds United under-23s team celebrate getting their hands on the Premier League 2 Division Two title winners' trophy. Picture by LUFC.

Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa has been steadily putting some of United’s current Under-23s stars on his bench of late and 18-year-old Cresswell has already savoured a first-team outing in the Carabao Cup.

The centre-back, son of former Whites striker Richard, played the full duration of September’s 1-1 draw at home to Hull City in which Leeds were beaten 9-8 on spot kicks.

“It was a tough game,” recalled Cresswell.

“But it was a long time ago in September and I feel like I have come on so much since then. Let’s see what happens.

“Myself individually, and collectively as a team, we have all improved this season massively and it helps so much because when we are here training we are training with the first team every day.

“We are training with Marcelo and training with the first team and when you are training around better players you become a better player.

“It’s worked off on us, as you can tell by the season we have had.

“With the 23s, we are hoping people get their chances and it’s just about taking them.

“I guess it’s like any club really.

“Every club brings challenges and you have just got to ride them out and overcome them.”

Cresswell and company overcame their league rivals in some style during the PL2 D2 campaign as they finished 11 points clear of runners up Stoke City, who themselves were nine points clear of third-placed Crystal Palace.

Jackson’s side won 18 of their 24 fixtures and went the whole season unbeaten at home.

The young Whites finished with a goal difference of plus 33 having netted 62 times, 12 via top scorer Sam Greenwood and 11 through Joe Gelhardt.

Both have made Bielsa’s first-team matchday squad this season with Greenwood handed a Whites debut as a second-half substitute in January’s FA Cup loss at Crawley Town.

Greenwood, Gelhardt and Cresswell have all been involved with England’s Under-19s, while England Under-20 full-back Cody Drameh and Netherlands Under-19 winger Crysencio Summerville are two other youngsters who were both nominated for PL2 D2 player of the month awards this term.

Drameh made the bench for United’s 2-0 loss at Brighton earlier this month whilst Summerville was amongst the substitutes for the goalless draw at home to Manchester United in March.

Wales Under-21 starlet Niall Huggins, Jack Jenkins and Oliver Casey are among the other newer Under-23 players to have been involved with the first-team this season – and Cresswell, whose task on the field is in stark contrast to the one performed by his dad. While Richard looked to score the goals, Charlie tries to keep them out.

“We have banter about it but he wouldn’t score past me, I tell you that,” laughed Cresswell.

As for influences from within the Whites squad, Cresswell admits he naturally looks up to first-team captain Liam Cooper and his deputy Luke Ayling.

“I remember when I got told I was going to be captain and I was like ‘oh wow’,” said Cresswell.

“I just had to take it my stride and just adopt that captain’s mentality.

“There’s loads of influences in the first team and everyone has their own sort of role models in the first team because of their position but I look up to Coops and Ayling.

“I want to be like them as in their leadership style or ways.

“I love the way they play and love everything about them.

“It’s just so great to have them around and ask them questions all the time and keep on improving.”

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Thank you Laura Collins