Leeds United academy graduate Jamie Shackleton on a big season, where he wants to play and Raphinha's unnoticed ability
Jamie Shackleton knows that the upcoming season is a big one in his Leeds United career.
The Thorp Arch academy product has been in and around Marcelo Bielsa’s first-team squad for a little over three years now and is fighting to pin down a regular starting berth with his boyhood club.
Shackleton could yet attempt to find a temporary move away from Elland Road in a bid for senior minutes before the month is out – though Leeds have opted to keep him closer than most of the club’s other recent academy graduates.
The 21-year-old racked up 13 Premier League appearances last term – mostly from the bench – which followed a total of 43 Championship outings in the previous two years since being handed his Whites debut by Bielsa at Derby County.
Shackleton has had to bide his time, working hard behind closed doors and taking any opportunities he has been afforded. Injuries have played a role at key moments in halting his progress when chances presented themselves whilst switching between the right side of defence and the centre of midfield might have been more of a hindrance than a help in trying to nail down a regular spot.
Shackleton’s involvement in pre-season at Blackburn Rovers, against Real Betis and Ajax felt important – so too did his performances, which came with the assured showing of a man well-versed in his role in the United set-up.
The Kippax native has an infectious personality and a smile to match, along with refreshing honesty about his current position at Elland Road. A place he wants to break out from.
“On the pitch,” Shackleton smirked after being asked where he would like to be involved this season.
Though the question was met with a jovial reply, there was a serious undertone to Shackleton’s response – he knows that more minutes are required at first-team level in the 12 months ahead, in West Yorkshire or otherwise.
“It’s to be in the line-up, whether that is at right-back or central midfielder. I am going to give 110 per cent whenever I’m on the pitch,” he continued.
“I think that is everyone’s aim in the squad. If you’re in the first-team squad then your aim is to be starting games and pushing for a spot. That’s ultimately what makes the whole team better.
“It’s definitely my aim to be in the line-up but it’s also everyone else’s in the squad as well. I’ve come off the bench a few times now. It’s something that I’ve done plenty of. It’s important to get up to speed quickly, you can’t be slowing the game down or making mistakes when the game is flowing and in a team playing at a high tempo.”
Shackleton has no better role model at the club than fellow academy graduate Kalvin Phillips – watching first hand the impact the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ has had at club and international level in his developing career.
It is also a tip of the cap to his abilities that Bielsa has wanted to keep him in and around his senior squad during his tenure, as opposed to suffering the same fate many of his peers have, making do with Under-23s football or loan spells for the next step.
Shackleton’s impressive appearances in pre-season have presented a question that has been bubbling away for a while – where, if anywhere, can he find a place in the current Whites team? Having moved to right-back under his Argentine head coach, he has performed well when called upon alongside his elder team-mates in defence, progressing the ball forward and utilising his pace to provide cover at the back.
In midfield it is very much along the same lines – adding a tenacious edge to the Whites’ pressing game.
“Every team needs experienced vocal players in the team – organisers,” Shackleton continued. “There are different types of leaders but you definitely need that type.
“I think I’ve been in and around the first-team squad for three years now. I’m well aware of what is required in both positions because I’ve played both so I know about both.”
Shackleton’s step up into England’s top flight has also seen him paired up with the likes of wide man Raphinha, who enjoyed a stunning breakout campaign in the Premier League last term.
While his job is to predominantly help support and allow the Brazilian to do what he does best – attack – he believes the other aspect of his game goes unnoticed, maybe something a defender behind will appreciate more than most.
“He’s [Raphinha] great at both sides of the game,” Shackleton added. “Everybody knows about his attacking qualities, they are pretty obvious. But I think what he does defensively goes unnoticed. It definitely helps my game when I’m playing at right-back.”
And right-back, midfield, or just on the pitch –as he says – will be where he hopes to see the most of this upcoming season.