Jesse Marsch makes bold Archie Gray pledge following Leeds United youngster's debut
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Archie Gray is yet to receive his GCSE results but has already passed Jesse Marsch's entry exam for the Leeds United first-team.
The 16-year-old made his first-team bow in a non-competitive fixture on Thursday evening as the Whites defeated Blackpool 4-0 in their opening pre-season friendly of the summer.
Goals from Robin Koch, Junior Firpo, Rodrigo and Mateo Joseph capped a convincing performance as Leeds fans packed into the LNER Community Stadium in York to witness a consummately professional display.
Gray started the match in midfield, playing alongside new signing Marc Roca with Sam Greenwood in front in the No. 10 position.
Leeds’ first half-chance of the contest came courtesy of the two youngsters who linked up with a one-two and ended with Gray gallantly chasing the return ball into the grasp of the Blackpool goalkeeper.
It was a display of intent from the teenager and the following 70 minutes reinforced the belief within the squad at Thorp Arch: he is no passenger in senior football.
Gray flew into tackles full-blooded, occasionally coming off worse for wear but was back to his feet swiftly and defiantly each time.
His eventual withdrawal came midway through the second half after head coach Jesse Marsch deemed him to have taken one too many knocks.
Speaking after the 4-0 win, Marsch praised the youngest member of his squad: “I consider Archie a first-team player at 16.”
“He has cleverness, the flexibility to play in multiple positions, he can run, he sees things quickly, he’s aggressive against the ball and he’s fearless. I think he’s got the full package."
Archie is a descendant of a storied Leeds United family which counts dad Andy, grandfather Frank and great-uncle Eddie as predecessors with close to 1,000 cumulative appearances.
His emergence last season as a 15-year-old in Under-23 football came as a surprise to some, but not to those closest to him.
Standing at six-feet tall with room to grow, fill out and learn his craft, there is palpable excitement at Elland Road about the teenager’s prospects.
"I think he’ll play,” Marsch told reporters. “How much or how often, we’re going to have a strong group I think we’re going to need our full roster.”
“I’m not the type of person to say we need to take him along carefully,” the American added. “If he shows he’s ready for big challenges like he did tonight, we’ll give him those big challenges.”
Gray was applauded from the field as he was substituted in the second half, recognition of a job well done by those inside the stadium.
“I think he’s a [Number] six, eight, ten,” Marsch opined over Gray’s best position. “I had a good talk with [dad] Andy in the summer and he thinks he’s good a little bit deeper. I said, ‘No way man, he’s about final plays and scoring goals!’ but he can do all those things because he’s intelligent.”
Gray cannot officially sign professional terms until his 17th birthday next March, however involvement with the first-team squad this coming season should prove reason enough not to seek opportunities elsewhere.