Midfielder chris looks likely to be next graduate from Leeds’ famed academy, with more youngsters set to follow him, as Phil Hay reports.
Neil Warnock has indicated that Chris Dawson will make his Leeds United debut before the end of the season after describing the midfielder as “the future of the club” and comparing him to a young Johnny Giles.
Warnock predicted that Dawson’s emergence as a regular first-team player would begin in earnest when United’s squad begin pre-season training in early July but he is contemplating blooding the Wales Under-21 international in their remaining Championship games.
Dawson, 18, has been on the verge of his senior debut since signing a professional deal with Leeds in October and receiving a first-team squad the following month. His inclusion on the bench against Huddersfield Town on March 16 was his third appearance as an unused substitute.
The Dewsbury-born player broke into the Wales Under-21 squad in February on the strength of his youth-team displays and pressure on Warnock to experiment with the emerging prospects from United’s academy is growing in response to a Championship season which has all but run out of steam.
Leeds’ 2-1 loss to Huddersfield ruined their fight for a play-off position and effectively confirmed that the club will compete in the Championship for a fourth year running next season. Warnock expects to leave Elland Road prior to his contract expiring on June 30.
The United boss admitted he was unwilling to throw Dawson into the fray while Leeds retained a mathematical chance of qualifying for the play-offs and the teenager was not expected to start away to Ipswich Town today but Dawson – an attacking playmaker who United’s academy staff rate as highly as Sam Byram – is likely to come to the fore ahead of the season’s conclusion at Watford on May 4.
“I hope he’ll get his debut before the end of the season,” Warnock said. “I’d like to give him his debut at some stage.
“He’s working really hard and he’s still got certain things to put into his game, which you’d expect from a young lad. With the level he’s at he does what he wants and as you go higher up in football you’ve got to put a bit of discipline into your game. But he’s a breath of fresh air and he’s the future of the club as well.
“We need a Chris Dawson type and he might well come through for next season. A lot of boys I’ve had in my career, going back to the likes of Mark Draper and Tommy Johnson at Notts County, they went home for the summer as youth-team players and came back as established first-team players.
“They were that much stronger in pre-season and Chris will be with the first team in pre-season. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t become a very integral part of the team. We are looking for that type of player.”
Dawson has played regularly for both United’s Under-18s and Under-21s this season, with the former likely to win their division and the latter placed prominently in their own league behind Leicester City and Derby County.
His inclusion in the Welsh Under-21 squad – coached by former Colchester United and Leyton Orient manager Geraint Williams – for the first time in early February was a strong vote of confidence, with Williams calling him “very energetic and enthusiastic and a good ball-player.”
Leeds signed Dawson to a senior deal early in the term, the first of five academy players to turn professional in the space of six months.
Lewis Walters, Eric Grimes, Luke Parkin and Under-18s captain Alex Mowatt have all agreed full-time contracts in the past week-and-a-half, profiting from strong individual and collective performances at youth-team level.
“We haven’t got to get carried away,” Warnock said. “I’m not sure how many of them will come through into the first team in the next 12 months.
“But Dawson’s got a little bit about him. He’s a Johnny Giles type of player. Size doesn’t really matter to him because he’s got ability.”
Aidan White, the United left-back who came through the Thorp Arch academy in 2008, admitted recently that Dawson seemed most likely to follow 19-year-old Byram in taking the step from the junior ranks to United’s first team.
Byram’s maiden season as a senior player has been a revelation, and to date the right-back has been ever-present. His form has attracted the interest of West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke who watched him during games at Leicester and Wolverhampton Wanderers prior to the international break.
“I always keep an eye on the younger lads,” White said. “I was in their shoes once so I know what it’s like for them.
“Sam’s been fantastic and I’d been tipping him to come through for a while. Chris Dawson looks like being next. He’s got bags of talent too.”
Warnock’s comparison between Dawson and Giles is extremely high praise. Giles was a fêted member of Don Revie’s Leeds’ squad and is still viewed by many of his team-mates as the most talented and influential player of that era. Sir Alf Ramsey once said that he regretted the fact that the Republic of Ireland international “wasn’t born an Englishman.” At 5’7”, Giles stood marginally smaller than Dawson but compensated for his size with supreme ability.
United have been held back this season in part by a lack of creative skill in the centre of their midfield, something which Dawson might help to remedy in seasons to come.
Warnock said: “The future’s very bright for him and I’m glad we’ve been able to bring him into it and give him a taste.
“He’s repaid us by getting picked for Wales Under-21s and in my own mind I can see games where it would benefit Chris to play. I’ll have to look at that over the next few games.”