Leeds United kids didn't heed Gjanni Alioski warning but don't throw Thorp Arch babies out with the bath water

As Gjanni Alioski fumed his way around Crawley Town’s pitch on Sunday, his September warning about missed opportunities came to mind.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 7:42 am
WISE WORDS - Gjanni Alioski warned Leeds United's youngsters and fringe players about missed opportunities after their Carabao Cup exit and he was a frustrated figure again as they went out of the FA Cup at Crawley Town. Pic: Getty

The North Macedonian was visibly riled for the majority of the 3-0 FA Cup defeat, an unfortunate blast of the ball from Ashley Nadesan leaving him with a sore jaw and his mood only worsened as the result left him with a sore head.

There was a little petulance in his full-time remonstrations with the officials but this is the second time Alioski has exited a cup competition in a bitterly disappointing manner this season as a Leeds team passed up a chance to show Marcelo Bielsa what they can do.

It was a strong starting line-up, as expected, with enough firepower to ‘get the job done’ against a League Two side.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But, with a 20-year-old and two 18-year-olds coming off the bench later on, Leeds had a decidedly youthful look about them and, as they failed to cope with Crawley’s defensive solidity and pace and power up top, it had the feel of men against boys.

It was a missed opportunity for a cup run, another one.

“It’s a chance to show to Leeds and for the young players that they want to play, even in the Premier League,” said Alioski after the Carabao Cup defeat to Hull City.

“It’s not good. It’s the cup, yes, but it’s important. It’s a trophy. We’ve already left it and even if it is far [to get through], why not? We have to try in everything, in every competition. It’s so sad that Leeds go out in the first round. It doesn’t matter who plays.

“It’s a chance to show the manager that they are ready as young players. We lost, so it’s one opportunity less to show him.

“They’re young. They’re going to have a lot of time to show [their potential] but there are little details and moments that you only have one chance and you need to take it.”

Had he told broadcasters to dig out his previous interview instead of giving a fresh one on Sunday, only one word would have needed to change. The rest would have rung just as true as when he spoke.

No-one really showed enough at Crawley. Ian Poveda and Liam Cooper were the best of a bad bunch.

But, for young players who might not reasonably expect to feature in the Premier League as Leeds attempt to stay up, this game was their moment to shine.

Moments are short, so showing less desire than the League Two players you’re facing or succumbing to stage fright can be costly for prospective careers.

The underwhelming displays of some of the youngsters and the players currently occupying places on Bielsa’s bench gave rise to concerns about what lies beneath the surface of the first team.

Sunday wasn’t good, but it’s important not to throw the babies out with the bathwater.

There is a major difference between Under-23s football and League Two. Both teams had experience but the youngsters in the Crawley team have had a taste of ‘real life’, where you don’t often get to stroke the ball around on a lovely surface like Leeds’ kids do at Thorp Arch and where games get scrappy. They knew what to do and how to win in such conditions.

This is the life that Alfie McCalmont, Robbie Gotts and others are living and they will be better for it, eventually returning to Leeds with experiences that the 23s and Premier League 2 cannot provide.

You also have to consider that Oliver Casey, Jack Jenkins and Sam Greenwood were playing in a poorly performing team. Had any of them stepped into a winning position, they might well have fared at least a little better. The same might be true had they dropped into Bielsa’s first team as individuals rather than dropping into a much-changed side as a gaggle of youngsters.

A poor team performance is no reason to write off individual talent. Raphinha struggled to change the game, so too did the wizard himself Pablo Hernandez and £29m Rodrigo. Expecting Sam Greenwood to do it is a stretch.

Greenwood was back in the 23s just 24 hours later and back in the goals. The good news is that chances, in the form of Premier League 2 games at least, will keep coming. They just have to listen to Alioski.

And if inspiration, rather than a telling off, is what they need then look no further than the 21-year-old who danced through tackles to score Sunday’s first, one who suffered a car crash, was released by Spurs and then by Brentford before Crawley resurrected his career.

“Anyone can come back from everything,” said Nick Tsaroulla, a young man who took his chance.