Four-year contracts are not issued casually by Leeds United and the award of such a substantial deal to Aidan White in 2008 said much about the club’s valuation of him.
White’s overnight emergence from the academy at Thorp Arch was a positive feature of the final months of Gary McAllister’s reign as first-team manager. The defender’s subsequent progress with Leeds – or, in the past two seasons, his lack of it – therefore went against the grain, contrary to what McAllister and others expected of him.
Only now, fully three years after his senior debut for United, can White sense an opportunity to maximise the potential he displayed as a raw 17-year-old.
Fitter, stronger and free from the persistent cramp which apparently dissuaded Simon Grayson from relying on him regularly, White’s prospects have expanded once more.
The cramp which afflicted him was a peculiar ailment; caused, he says, by anxiety related to his promotion to United’s senior side. The magnitude of his achievement in bridging the gap from Leeds’ academy to their first team seemed to play on the mind of a teenager with pace, a left foot and enough talent to convince the club that his first professional contract should span no fewer than four seasons.
Grayson sent White on loan to Oldham Athletic last year, a spell in which the 19-year-old played 24 times and scored four goals, and so far this term he has offered a solution to a position which, under Grayson and many previous Leeds bosses, refuses to pick itself. No longer is his reliability in question.
“The cramp was down to nervous tension as much as anything,” White said. “It wasn’t really to do with my fitness levels.
“It was purely down to me being a young lad and finding myself in and around the first team at Leeds. That’s what I’d always wanted to do but being in the team made me nervous. The cramp came from that.
“But I’ve come back from my loan at Oldham feeling stronger and more experienced. I’ve been given an opportunity and all you can do is try to play well in every game. The rest is the manager’s choice. But I feel like I’m progressing.”
Grayson’s attempts to find a reliable left-back last season focused on more experienced options – Federico Bessone initially and George McCartney from September onwards.
Since experimenting with on-loan centre-back Darren O’Dea during the first week of this term, United’s manager has taken a more youthful outlook, using White regularly and replacing him with 17-year-old Charlie Taylor after he incurred a red card and a one-match suspension in a 2-1 defeat at Ipswich Town.
White nevertheless regained his position against Bristol City last weekend and left Elland Road with the man-of-the-match award. However, his reintegration has been anything but simple, beginning with a game against Hull City which arrived on the back of successive Championship defeats.
On Tuesday night, he was part of a side who surrendered tamely to Manchester United in the Carling Cup, and this evening’s game against Brighton is a confrontation with a club who, on the crest of a wave from promotion from League One, are threatening to repeat their success in Championship.
Brighton’s promising start to the season under manager and former Leeds assistant Gus Poyet is the continuation of a trend set when United, Norwich City and Millwall climbed out of League One in 2010 and made a strong impression on the division above. Southampton and Peterborough United have done likewise in their seven npower Championship matches so far.
“I’m not surprised at all,” White said. “Brighton had momentum to take with them from last season and they’ve got a winning habit and belief in themselves. As soon as you get that, you’re going to find it easier.
“I was a reserve when Gus Poyet was at Leeds and only just in and around the first team. I never played under him but I do remember him.
“A few of the lads here, like Jonny Howson, played under him and said he was excellent – someone who got all the players going. He’ll have Brighton right up for the game.
“We haven’t played as well as we could have done recently but we got six points from the last two league games and I’m confident that we’ll take another three tonight.
“Our start to the season was difficult, and we stuttered a bit, but we’ve picked ourselves up.”
Grayson’s players are required to do so again after failing to make a contest of their high-profile televised meeting with old foes Manchester United at Elland Road.
Recovery is also an issue for Brighton, who lost to Liverpool in the Carling Cup a day later and had less than 48 hours to prepare for the visit of Leeds to their Amex Stadium.
“It’s not easy when you play twice in the space of a couple of days,” White said. “Your legs feel a bit heavier, but I’m sure Brighton will be able to put a strong team out and give us a hard game.
“As far as Brighton being the priority this week, I just take every game as it comes.
“I wanted to go out and help us beat Manchester United. Who wouldn’t? Everyone wants to play in a game like that and we wanted to do well.
“Now we move onto Brighton and we’ll try to show what we can do.
“On Tuesday we were playing against some of the best players in the world, hands down. You have to learn what you can from that.
“The positives and the negatives should make me a better player and playing against the world’s best is what I want. This was an opportunity to do that and I’m thankful for it.”