The emergence of Leeds United's Jamie Shackleton - Marcelo Bielsa, Carlos Corberan, Thorp Arch and calls to be freed

“There's a little boy, a midfield player called Jamie Shackleton. I think he's got a great chance," stated former Leeds United head coach and academy manager Neil Redfearn.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 1:21 pm
Marcelo Bielsa hands Jamie Shackleton his senior debut at Pride Park in August.

It's been a little over three years since those words were uttered, with Shackleton aged just 16 and about to be included on United's pre-season tour by then boss Garry Monk.

For those at Thorp Arch, the midfielder turned right-back’s stock has risen ever since.

"I think he's a good footballer," Redfearn continued. "He's got great feet. He's not the biggest but he's very tenacious. He reads the game well.”

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Shackleton joined Leeds as a boy and despite his fresh-faced look has already displayed traits of men well beyond his years, even revealing an interest in taking his coaching badges ready for retirement despite his career being in its infancy.

“Jamie has a maturity which does not correspond to his age," Marcelo Bielsa said in December. "He plays like a veteran but he’s only 19."

Age, after all, is just a number. Actions speak louder than words. And it took Bielsa just a matter of weeks to thrust him into his pre-season plans in haste following his arrival in West Yorkshire last June.

A new position was required as the Argentinian saw traits in the youngster which he believed were more suited away from his natural position in midfield.

“I've been asked this a lot,” Shackleton grinned over questions about what his favoured position was, although it was hard to tell whether the ear-to-ear smile was due to him having minutes earlier helped United seal the Professional Development League national title.

"If you'd asked me before the season then I'd have said midfield all day long. But I've enjoyed getting to know the position at right-back this year and that's where I've played the majority of the time.

"I've never played there before so to learn it at this age is really quite late."

It is a tip of the hat to Shackleton that a position he was barely familiar with last summer has given him his main opportunities in the Championship.

His full league debut came in quick fashion last August as he stepped in to cover for the injured Liam Cooper at Swansea City while an injury to first choice full-back Luke Ayling presented another opportunity in November.

The Liberty Stadium, though, was where he really introduced himself to the Whites faithful as he bagged an assist with a driving run into the box, setting up Kemar Roofe's equaliser in a 2-2 draw.

Leeds had already felt compelled to hand Shackleton a new three-year deal just a week earlier following his cameo in a 4-1 demolition of Saturday's play-off opponents Derby County.

“He can attack by surprise, he defends well and when he moves he has explosive movements," Bielsa said.

And it's not just his head coach who has noticed.

United fans have been impressed by his no-fear attitude, raw pace, high workrate and explosive play, so much so that the #FreeShackleton hashtag has been in use across social media this season as a call for him to see more on-field minutes.

The season, though, has been a whirlwind for him as much as everyone else with three league starts and 16 substitute appearances to his name. Not to mention the two assists in his 439 minutes of Championship action.

"It's not what I expected when I came back for pre-season," he reflected. "I came in and trained with them and to be honest I didn't expect to be as involved as I have been.

"I've really enjoyed this season and when I've been given opportunities I've given everything I've got."

Shackleton is another in the long list of the Thorp Arch success stories. Fellow development graduate Jack Clarke claimed the club's player-of-the-year award for his noticeable impact from the bench this season but there is as much hype around the winger as Shackleton.

On Monday the pair lined-up with long time team-mates Robbie Gotts and Alfie McCalmont as the Under-23s capped off a fine season with PDL glory in front of a near-8,000 crowd at Elland Road.

"I've played with some of those boys since we were six and seven years old," Shackleton said. "I think for academy lads all over the country this is the best place to be.

"If you're good enough you're given a chance in the first team. If you keep your head down and keep working hard everyday in training then it's going to come.

"You've got to really believe that."

It's clear that he does. And it has shown in his and the development team's play this season that there's an obvious link to the senior ranks.

"We're playing some unbelievable football which mirrors the first team," he said.

"Carlos (Corberan) works with both so he can bring ideas from that and work with us. When we go out there and play it's similar to the first team and it's good to watch. He's been key to that."

A pathway is in evidence from the Under-23s into the senior set-up, and not for the first time.

Corberan whenever asked reiterates one thing he always looks for in his young charges as he nurtures their development: mentality.

A short conversation with any of those who work within the walls at Thorp Arch and they'll tell you that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who works harder than Shackleton, either at senior level or below. It's clear that he just gets it.

"I think that's a minimum really, it's a given," he said of his high workrate.

"Obviously you need to have talent but if you go out there and you work hard and everyone can see that then they can't really complain."

A wise head on young shoulders. And surely, if his rise continues on the path that it has undertaken over the past 12 months, it won't be long until he is freed.