IN just seven weeks in charge, Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom has already faced frequent questions about teenage midfielder Ronaldo Vieira.
Big things were predicted this term for a footballer who enjoyed a stellar first full season at Leeds in 2016-17 – 38 appearances followed by a starring role in the Toulon Tournament for England’s Under-20s.
After starting both of England’s first two group games, the teen returned to the side for both the semi-final against Scotland and final against the Ivory Coast in which the midfielder scored the winning penalty.
“He’s sort of had a meteoric rise if you like from where he was a couple of years ago to where he is now,” said Heckingbottom last month about a footballer who only joined Leeds from York-based i2i Football Academy in September 2015.
Less than two years later, the Guinea Bissau-born footballer had signed professional terms at Leeds followed by two new contracts with the midfielder then turning from club hero to country hero in France.
Vieira’s second full season at United has not exactly gone according to plan, but England’s under-20s have again come knocking for his services tonight which ought to provide another timely reminder of Heckingbottom’s advice to “enjoy” that “meteoric” rise to fame.
He’s had a meteoric rise if you like and you’ve got to enjoy that and think what it took to get there because he’s not the finished article by any means.Paul Heckingbottom on Ronaldo Vieira
Various factors have contributed towards 19-year-old Vieira’s comparative lack of involvement this season compared to his stellar first full season with the Whites.
The midfielder only made his Whites debut in the 2015-16 season finalé at Preston under Steve Evans and the teenager established himself quickly as a first-choice midfielder under Garry Monk the following term.
But just 24 appearances have so far followed in 2017-18 under first Thomas Christiansen and now Heckingbottom, who has naturally been quizzed about the midfielder’s situation and development as a result.
The fact that Vieira has been battling a niggly problem with tendonitis in his knee is no secret and Christiansen seemed intent on taking a patient approach with the midfielder at the start of this season following his extremely busy and prolonged summer with England’s under-20s. After his escapades with the young Three Lions in France, Vieira had just 16 days of rest before returning to pre-season training and the teenager then had to wait until United’s 13th Championship game of the season before making this season’s first league start in the October clash at Bristol City.
Vieira was back with a bang in playing an important role in helping United net an impressive 3-0 victory and a run of starts then followed, but the Ashton Gate outing failed to provide the platform for lift-off that might have been expected with fellow midfielders Eunan O’Kane and Kalvin Phillips selected regularly instead.
With Adam Forshaw then signing in January and O’Kane lately selected as his midfield partner in crime, Vieira is now in a situation where he has played no part in United’s last three league games.
The midfielder has not started for six games with his last start coming in the 2-2 draw at Derby County during which he was substituted for Phillips three minutes after the hour.
It was then that new head coach Heckingbottom was first openly asked about the midfielder as to how he could help develop the teen’s talents.
“I’ve had a chat with him and he definitely puts a lot of pressure in himself,” said Heckingbottom.
“He’s had a meteoric rise if you like and you’ve got to enjoy that and think what it took to get there because he’s not the finished article by any means.
“I don’t want anything to confuse him as to what he is very good at, what he needs to improve at and ultimately get him into a place where he can maximise everything that he has.”
Even in light of an inconsistent second campaign at Leeds, England’s under-20s have kept the faith with Keith Downing calling up the midfielder to his squad to face Portugal – of all countries – in tonight’s 7pm kick-off at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium.
Born in Guinea Bissau, Vieira and his twin brother Romario were raised in Portugal but the talented teenagers left the country in 2011 in search of bigger gains in England with Vieira remaining eligible to represent Guinea Bissau, Portugal or England. Fewer than seven years have passed since the move to England and a rapid rise up the ranks involving Whitley Bay Boys Club, Batley Phoenix and the i2i Football Academy. Followed by the move to Leeds – and now another call-up for England’s under-20s providing a further opportunity for Vieira to reflect, and in the words of his head coach, enjoy the meteoric rise to fame.
Undoubtedly one of Vieira’s finest moments as a footballer arrived last summer for England’s under-20s. Heckingbottom and Leeds will now be hoping that a repeat call-up with the young Three Lions can lead to bigger and better highs with Leeds.