Lewie Coyle comes under the heading of emerging talent at Leeds United but when he looks across football, 21 no longer feels like such a young age. He was sitting on the bench last season when Ryan Sessegnon, the Fulham left-back, made his league debut as a 16-year-old. There are others in the game who remind him not to waste time.
Leeds have high expectations of Coyle but after dipping his toe into the water with occasional appearances at Elland Road, he and the club agreed that a long-term loan would help him make a bigger splash.
Fleetwood Town, in League One, felt like a good destination: managed by a coach who Coyle knew, play-off semi-finalists in May and a club whose progress and infrastructure dwarfs the perceived potential of any team in a town with 25,000 inhabitants.
In his first two months Coyle has made the impression he hoped to make, winning a streak of man-of-the-match awards handed out on the basis of online votes by supporters. He took them with a healthy pinch of salt.
“I have to be honest, I’m wondering if a lot of Leeds fans are voting for me on Twitter,” he says.
“I don’t know for sure but I’ve got my suspicions. But it’s nice if people think I’m doing well.”
There are plenty of great players at Leeds and they deserve to be ahead of me but at some stage you’ve got to start playing week in week out.Lewie Coyle
Coyle’s debut for Leeds came in December 2015, a few months after Fleetwood boss Uwe Rosler was sacked from the same job at Elland Road. Coyle trained under Rosler prior to his dismissal and met with him before agreeing to join Fleetwood on a season-long loan in July.
“He told me his thoughts for the season, I told him mine and it was obviously the right move for me,” Coyle says. “He was a massive factor in me coming here, him and Rob Kelly (Rosler’s assistant).
“I didn’t play under them at Leeds but I trained with the first team and I felt at the time that they brought me on leaps and bounds. I only had good things to say about them. I’m not sure of the exact stats but Fleetwood have had something like six promotions in 10 years. They’re an ambitious club and you feel that when you get here.”
At Leeds, Coyle and players like him have the benefit of the patience that comes with their emergence from United’s academy. At Fleetwood, Coyle knew he would be expected to meet the required standard from the off. He found a familiar face in Alex Cairns, the former Leeds goalkeeper who has come of age at Highbury Stadium, and spoke briefly to ex-United left-back Charlie Taylor about Taylor’s own loan at Fleetwood four years ago but the transfer was Coyle’s first experience of walking into a new dressing room.
“It’s a bit strange, a bit like your first day at school all over again, but it’s a good thing to be taken out of your comfort zone,” Coyle says.
“I’ve always been open to going out on loan but for the last couple of years I’ve played a bit for Leeds and it was great to have that chance. Your focus is on making the most of the games you’re involved in.
“I’m just at the stage where I need to do more than sit on the bench. That’s not me complaining. There are plenty of great players at Leeds and they deserve to be ahead of me but at some stage you’ve got to start playing week in week out.
“The thing is, I don’t see myself as young anymore. I look around football and there are kids of 16, 17, 18 coming through at all levels. Saying ‘I’m still young’ – it’s true in a way but you can’t say that forever. It’s got to be better for me to be playing games regularly in a competitive environment.”
Coyle has started all 11 of Fleetwood’s league fixtures and a 2-1 win after a mammoth coach journey to Plymouth on Saturday left Rosler’s squad a point below League One’s play-off positions. Coyle is hoping to see another sustained promotion bid materialise under Rosler – “it’s something I’d love to be part of” – but his future plans revolve around Leeds.
The club handed him a new three-year contract before his move to Fleetwood, encouraging Coyle to use his time away to put himself in the picture at Elland Road. Luke Ayling’s position as first-choice right-back was unlikely to be threatened this season and the club have Gaetano Berardi as a more-than-adequate fall-back.
Coyle was liable to be third in the selection order.
“The aim for me is to help Fleetwood go up this season but also to play well enough to go back to Leeds and put myself in the shop window for the manager there,” he says.
“I’m a very ambitious person and I don’t like settling for second best but I’m realistic as well. I know I have to play and I know I have to do well (at Fleetwood). I’ve got to show that I’m good enough.
“Coming here, no-one is going to go easy on me.
“I’m not the finished article or even close but I’ve not been brought in here to take it easy. I’m like any other signing, I’ve got to do well and I’m happy with the way I’ve played so far. First and foremost I’ve got to be at it.”
Coyle says he felt no sense of envy after seeing Leeds surge to the top of the Championship last month and no concern about the possibility of missing out the sort of year which United have spent more than a decade waiting for.
“I want what’s best for the club,” he says. “I want Leeds back in the Premier League as soon as possible. If that happens while I’m away then I’ll be really chuffed. I’d be going back to a Premier League club.
“It’s not about individual players at Leeds. It’s about the club moving forward. I want to be part of that in the future but for now, I’ve got a great opportunity at Fleetwood. It’s the right place at the right time, I feel.”