Jamie Shackleton: Leeds United's Jesus bug is a speedster, a worker and a 'down to earth boy'
Jamie Shackleton is Leeds United’s Jesus bug.
His feet scarcely seem to touch the turf when he skims across it, leaving markers in his wake.
Like water striders, an insect anatomically built to transfer their weight to run on top of the water’s surface, there is a serenity and a balance to Shackleton as he moves around a football pitch at speed.
It is a natural talent which became abundantly evident in the running races at Lady Elizabeth Hastings Primary and St Wilfred’s Catholic School sports days.
His pace wasn’t always ideal.
“From the age of 11 months he never walked, he ran,” said mum Louise.
“If you opened the car door and got him out of the car seat you literally had grab him, because he just ran.”
There is no doubt the fleet footed midfielder has one more gear to shift into than others he faces in the Championship, but at times this season opponents have looked like they’re wading against an invisible current as he blows by.
At Barnsley he took Leeds from danger to safety with one searing turn of pace.
At home to West Brom he lost the ball, zipped after it to win it back, then turned a corner and accelerated into the clear to start a promising counter attack.
He is, at 20 years and one day old, a player full of promise.
The compliments have flowed his way.
Maybe the greatest compliment of all is that Marcelo Bielsa sees Shackleton as a compatible part for his well-oiled machine.
Bielsa likes it when a part of the machine is removed and another can be swapped straight in, without detriment to the smooth running of the overall system.
And he likes versatility.
Shackleton is a central midfielder but he can play right-back too.
When Adam Forshaw, the man who brings so much control and order to the Leeds United midfield, picked up a hip injury, it was the youngster, Shackleton Bielsa turned to.
“The 11 starting positions, one player can build it,” said the Argentine.
“I can build it if I can put one player or another player in and they make the team work in similar ways.
“The good thing about Shackleton is, when he plays, the team works, even if I play another team.
“This is very good for one player of 20 and it’s difficult to achieve this.
“There are a lot of young players with skills to play in the Championship.
“Maybe they have played matches, maybe they play well, but being part of the 15/16 who can start is a new level and Shackleton is there.”
High praise indeed.
It is not just pace and skill that has taken Shackleton to this higher plane of footballing existence, however.
Northern Irish international Stuart Dallas named Shackleton and fellow Thorp Arch kid Robbie Gotts as the Leeds United team-mates he most dislikes playing against in training, because “they never stop running”.
At 16, his tenacity was sufficient for Neil Redfearn to go public with his belief that the kid had a ‘great chance’ in the game. Such a declaration can be risky, it adds pressure to young shoulders, it might swell the head or lessen the hunger of a teenager. Redfearn saw enough in Shackleton to justify the risk.
That tenacity Redfearn saw, a voracious appetite for running and a willingness to introduce his feet to as much grass as possible are what Shackleton just calls his job.
“Just put yourself about, work as hard as you can for the team and be in the areas that you are supposed to be in when you are attacking and defending,” he said, when asked to define his midfield role.
“Just cover the ground that you have to cover.”
His single-minded desire to succeed in football is, like his speed, inbuilt.
As a young teenager picking school options and considering the future, he told his mum that there was to be no Plan B, no alternative career choice.
He was simply going to be a footballer.
That was his goal and his obsession.
“He’s always been very determined and focused on what he wanted,” said Louise.
“From the age of five, six, he breathed, ate, slept football.
“It’s fantastic to see how he’s come on. When I speak to my mum and dad we remember how he used to sit and watch match after match after match on the telly, then Match of the Day, it was constant.”
The nurturing he has received since joining Leeds United’s academy at the age of nine, after being spotted playing for his local junior side Kippax Athletic, has helped strengthen his will to work.
And the demands of Bielsa’s style of play and training regime – the quick pace, the relentless pursuit of the football, the kilometres and kilometres of running – appear to suit Shackleton’s personality and physical attributes.
“When you are a kid it gets drilled into you that you want to win so playing with my mates I was just as competitive and put myself about just as much,” said the midfielder.
“[At Leeds] we train like we play and it’s so much easier if it’s instilled into you that everything is at a fast pace and high work rate and that’s just the way everyone is here.
“Everyone is high work rate and everyone gives 100 per cent.”
Even with the attributes possessed by Shackleton that have got him this far and the attitude he takes to furthering himself, nothing is left to chance by Bielsa.
The Argentine is giving his young charge plenty of one-to-one input, plenty to think about and work on in order to make him and Leeds United even better.
“He’s given me areas of my game that he sees as weaker, that I can work on.
“He’s given me drills that I can do outside after training to work on things that he feels will improve me as a player and then that will hopefully go on to improve the team during games.”
It is just 14 months since his dream debut for his boyhood club and he’s not just impressing in the white of Leeds, England have come calling, with Under-20s international appearances adding to the 32 senior club matches already under his belt.
He is popular with legions of Leeds fans, over 50,000 of whom follow him on social media, and regarded as a player they desperately want their club to keep at Elland Road.
Life comes at you fast when you cement your place in the first team squad of a Championship promotion hopeful.
His quick feet remain firmly on the ground, however, at least when he’s not running around on grass.
“It hasn’t changed him a bit,” said Louise. “If you meet someone new he doesn’t tell them what he does, he doesn’t like me telling them, it’s ‘shut up mum’.
“It’s what everyone says, they can’t believe how it hasn’t changed him at all.
“He goes to work, comes home, sits and has his tea with the family, goes to bed, gets up and goes to work to do it all again.
“He’s the most down to earth boy.”