Leeds United nearing 'outstanding' 'Rolls-Royce' midfield signing who wowed European scouts

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Had news of Leeds United’s move for Manchester City’s Darko Gyabi broken on any other day last week, it would have been quite a big story.

But it only came to light on Friday night, at the exact same moment that City’s successful pursuit for United’s Kalvin Phillips landed like a bombshell on the Whites fanbase, that the 18-year-old was also set for a trans-Pennines trek. Gyabi was on the radar but not pinging as loudly as he might have done.

A £5m fixed fee was always going to raise eyebrows, no matter how highly rated the teenager is, because he’s yet to play senior football and has but a dozen Premier League 2 appearances under his belt.

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Yet Leeds, who have prided themselves on the diligence and fruitfulness of their Under-23 recruitment work, believe he’s going to be a big signing for them.

There are others who agree. Harry Brooks, a professional football coach and co-founder of CREATE Talent agency, was introduced to Gyabi by Jamie Bynoe-Gittens prior to the pandemic.

“I coach professional academy players outside of their clubs, work with them on analysis and things like that,” he told The YEP.

“We work with players 15, 16, 17, the younger end usually because they want the most pushing to get to where they want to be. I worked with Jamie for a number of years and he knew Darko from Man City and England, and everyone talks in football, so while I can’t remember who made the first contact, I ended up coaching Darko. He lives a stone’s throw away from Crystal Palace’s training ground, if I remember correctly, so it was just a session in a local park, nothing fancy at all. He was just happy to get down and work and show what he’s got. Just got on with it.

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“I rated him incredibly highly, watched a lot of his games ever since and kept in touch. When I saw the news the other day that he was going to Leeds, I sent him a congratulations message.”

ROLLS-ROYCE - Darko Gyabi is close to a £5m move from Manchester City to Leeds United. Pic: GettyROLLS-ROYCE - Darko Gyabi is close to a £5m move from Manchester City to Leeds United. Pic: Getty
ROLLS-ROYCE - Darko Gyabi is close to a £5m move from Manchester City to Leeds United. Pic: Getty

Brooks took to Twitter to insist that with a ‘wonderful talent’ like Gyabi, who he described as the number eight you would build in a lab, there is no downside to this transfer for Leeds.

“He has the natural ability, he has the mindset of being very confident but also humble with it,” Brooks told The YEP.

“So he has what the best players need – they’re very assured of themselves, but they don’t have to prove themselves. It’s in their demeanour. It’s how they behave. It’s how they walk, how they talk. It’s not cocky, but they know ‘I’m a player’ and then, when you have that mindset, and they have this ability, this profile to match, it ticks so many boxes.

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“As a number eight, probably the most well-rounded midfield player I’ve ever worked with, because he is incredibly athletic. He has that long stride to gallop away from people, very strong and can hold the ball up, he’s got an engine, he’s got quick feet, good foot patterns, but he also has silk to his game.

COACHING SESSION - Harry Brooks worked with incoming Leeds United signing Darko Gyabi when he was 16 in a local park in south LondonCOACHING SESSION - Harry Brooks worked with incoming Leeds United signing Darko Gyabi when he was 16 in a local park in south London
COACHING SESSION - Harry Brooks worked with incoming Leeds United signing Darko Gyabi when he was 16 in a local park in south London

“He has beautiful technique, he can brush his passes, he can ping passes, shift the ball off both feet. And he’s got really good creative instincts as well. He can receive the ball and, all of a sudden, do a turn away from someone that no-one saw coming and then reverse a pass somewhere. There’s not really a set-up or a team and a style that he couldn’t play for.”

Gyabi featured at Elland Road last season as Manchester City’s Under-23s clinched the Premier League 2 title, coming off the bench to assist Liam Delap for the third and final goal.

Brooks believes those two were the stand-out performers last season for the young Citizens.

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Xander Wilkinson, a scout who is shortly to join a Championship club after five years working for SC Heerenveen, was present at Manchester City 23s’ game against Liverpool in March and it was Gyabi who caught the eye of the assembled talent spotters.

“I knew a lot were looking at him and a lot liked him,” he told The YEP.

“He was probably the standout that day and I was speaking to a lot of other scouts from across Europe and the Premier League and they were all saying he looked so good, so smooth. They all knew that he was probably going to be available this summer if the fee was met – I’m not sure any thought £5m but pretty much everyone was interested.”

Gyabi first came to Wilkinson’s attention after his £300,000 move from Millwall to the Etihad in 2018.

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His view is that being at Manchester City was starting to stunt the teenager.

“He just glides around so effortlessly,” said Wilkinson.

“He’s a Rolls-Royce, never hurried, just so smooth with everything, gliding past players, handing them off. Whenever he gets the ball you’re always wanting him to do something, waiting for him because, technically, football is effortless for him. He’s a proper eight, a box-to-box player, he’s well rounded, which is quite rare to see in youth football.

“I think he’s been stuck at Man City; he needs to be in a team that says go and win us a game. He was pretty much an enabler to get the best out of Cole Palmer or James McAtee or whoever else was pushed ahead of him and a year or two older than him.”

Wilkinson, a Leeds fan, sees a player who can put himself in the frame for Premier League football if the Whites get it right with him in the 23s.

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“There’s work to be done to fit him in because I don’t know if they’ll play him deeper alongside Bate, or what they’re planning with Bate, but I see the fit and I see the appeal because, if you get the minute details, the tactical system in play with him then he becomes a really good option probably within 18 months, knocking on the first-team door,” he said.

“I think you’ve got to look to him to say right go win us games, be the main man, go and stand out.”

Initially, like Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville before him, Gyabi will need to exercise patience.

That isn’t a concern for Brooks.

“Darko knows how good he is, he is a smart lad, a really, lovely lad,” he told The YEP.

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"He knows you get to the top by hard work, not just in football but in life. But football just exemplifies it even more that it’s not a straight path, it’s not just an upward trajectory. There’s going to be times when it’s doubts, injuries, it could be a load of things, you can’t just allow your form and confidence to go with those inconsistencies. You’ve got to know your chance will come and, once it does, take advantage.

“I know he’s not going to be throwing any kind of stroppy hissy fit if he doesn’t make his debut in the first five games. He knows he’s good enough. He just has to keep humble, keep working and back himself to get into that team. He’s an outstanding footballer and an outstanding signing.”

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