Inside Thorp Arch: 'These lads need to feel what it's like to win something for Leeds United'

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Leeds United under-18s coach Mark Jackson discusses the Whites league title win, moulding young minds at Thorp Arch and his relationship with Paul Heckingbottom.

Leeds United as a football club have always taken great pride in producing young talent whether it's those who make the grade at Elland Road or those who don't.

Thorp Arch.

Thorp Arch.

Lewis Cook is just one of those success stories in recent years and after being handed his first England cap against Italy in March plenty of smiles would've been seen on faces past and present at United's academy.

The Whites were credited for their hand in Cook's development at the EFL awards earlier this month but for many at Thorp Arch it is just another tick in the box of pushing the best out of the talent in front of them.

The man who is now tasked with moulding the minds of the under-18s at United's academy is former player Mark Jackson and, although things haven't run smoothly at first-team level this season, the 40-year-old has seen his side become another one of the many success stories after they lifted the Professional Development League northern league title.

"We're delighted with the season," said Jackson following Saturday's play-off game.

"There's numerous reasons, obviously. Straight away you can see we've had success in the league where we've won the title. Ultimately you've seen progression of players at the football club which is key to what we want as an academy and that is success in itself."

The Whites came unstuck 1-0 against a physical Charlton Athletic side at the weekend in the semi-finals of the development play-offs but the rapid rise of United's 18s side may have come as a slight shock to those outside of Thorp Arch's walls.

For Jackson, though, it is just another sign of the progress being made, titles are all well and good but the wider goal at Leeds remains the same as it always has.

"It's seeing players progress," replied Jackson when asked what was his main aim.

"It's what we want to do, we want to see them playing in the first-team. At this football club throughout the years, even when I was a scholar here coming through, there has always been a presence of the academy in the first-team.

"We want that to continue and we feel we've got a good environment for the players. We've got a good management at the top end who are going to blood those youngsters as we've seen with Tom Pearce, Paudie O'Connor and Bailey Peacock-Farrell along with [Ronaldo] Vieira and [Kalvin] Phillips, we can talk about loads.

"We want these players to develop so they can have, not just one or two appearances, but actually sustain it. That's why it's so good that the lads have won something because, in my opinion, these lads need to feel what it is like to win something for Leeds United.

"Then they can take that up into the next step to the under-23s and also the first-team."

Jackson also revealed that having a coach like Paul Heckingbottom at the helm can only be a good thing for his players believing that an avenue is being creating for them to succeed at senior level by the former Barnsley man.

"I spoke to the gaffer as soon as he came in the building," he revealed.

"He's speaking, asking about the academy and that's fantastic to hear. Players regularly transition up and train with the first-team and have experiences and that's really valuable.

"I think that's key for myself and the 18s staff that players step up there and they're exposed to that environment. It's tackled like the under-15s and 16s that come with us, they're exposed and it's a big difference.

"Going from professional development football to the first-team is a big step, so how we work to minimise that gap at this football club is very calculated. To have the buy-in from the manager is fantastic."