I got the chance to watch Lee Erwin during a game between Motherwell and Kilmarnock a few weeks ago.
I didn’t go there to watch him specifically, I just happened to be at the match, but he was one of the players who stood out. He scored that night and he showed the attributes of a talented centre-forward: strong, tall, quick enough and blessed with two good feet.
Since hearing that Leeds United were interested in him, I’ve obviously been asking about to see what people in Scotland think of him. He gets positive reports and more to the point a lot of clubs seem to be following him. So if he is going to be coming to Elland Road, I’ll be happy with that.
At 21 he hasn’t played a huge amount of football but he’s just gone through a full season in the Scottish Premiership. The question you automatically get asked about any Scottish footballer is ‘how will he cope with the level of the English Championship?’
My answer to that is always the same. Good players are good players. Robert Snodgrass came from Livingston and he coped no problem in the Championship. That’s simply because the boy had ability. Some who’ve come south have struggled and there’s no denying that but if you pick your players carefully then it’s not an impossible move. Snoddy made it look easy.
He was a young laddie when we first took him and he’s thrived down here. Erwin falls into that same sort of age bracket. This is only my opinion but I much prefer the idea of Leeds investing money in players with raw potential and years ahead of them than I do the idea of them forking out on guys who are maybe creeping past their peak.
Obviously I realise that you need a blend in the team. Flooding the side with emerging prospects is a risk and you have to find the right balance. Experience does have a certain value, especially in the harder times. You want leaders in the dressing room and it’s difficult to expect kids to act in that way. They want to play freely, without added responsibility. But as I’ve said many times before, this club is at its best when it tries to build a squad, rather than buying one at great expense. That doesn’t just apply to the Don Revie era. With Howard Wilkinson, the same principles applied. You had Gary Speed and David Batty mixed in with the likes of Gordon Strachan. David O’Leary also relied massively on the academy at Thorp Arch.
We’ve hit another purple patch in terms of the production line at the minute and this is the time to really exploit it.
Assuming we sign him, Erwin and others like him should relish the environment at Leeds. They’d be joining a squad where the average age is similar to their own. It’s not like a 21-year-old is going to be an isolated kid amongst loads of old pros. Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor should be right on the same wavelength, making it easier to settle in.
What I like about that group is that they’re all at the beginning of their careers, young and hungry. Maybe I’m talking out of turn but I do think football fans generally prefer to see a team made up of vibrant young talent. They’re not so enthusiastic about lads who are entering the back end of their careers and perhaps looking for one last contract. To me, the passion and desire isn’t the same.
We had a situation a couple of years back where a group of our players were travelling to Leeds from Manchester every day. They weren’t even living in the area. I’m not questioning their professionalism or their commitment to the job but it does strike you as a bunch of guys who are passing through the club and not necessarily here for the long haul. And in fairness to them, I understand their attitude. Some were in their 30s, some were no doubt settled with families and most of them probably knew they wouldn’t be at Leeds forever. In their situation I might have done the same.
The young lads, on the other hand, live locally. Some of them are Leeds fans and they’ve got roots in these parts. It can be tough to relocate at a young age but as someone like Snodgrass found, moving at an early stage of your career gives you a chance to settle and make a home here. If Erwin is coming to Leeds then I’m sure people will be saying the same to him – head down south, embrace it and take it all in.
As I said, the weight of expectation at Elland Road can’t be dumped entirely on young shoulders. It’s a demanding club with a lot of pressure. But I actually think that the youth has a positive impact on others around them.
Look at Luke Murphy. When Murphy first signed, all eyes were on him. He’d cost £1m, or so we were told, and big things were expected of him. His first season here was a hard one for the club and he never found his form. A lot of people, myself included, were thinking ‘is this lad any good?’
But in the second half of the season just gone, I thought he was excellent. And I don’t doubt that one of the reasons for his improvement was the lack of attention on him. Round about him, the kids did their thing and shared the plaudits. Murphy was able to crack on in the background, helping out and acting like a senior pro’.
Only he could say for certain but I have a feeling the situation did him a favour.
That sort of environment is extremely healthy. You’ve got hunger, you’ve got energy and you’ve got lots of people driving themselves to carve out careers. None of them are at a stage where they can think they’ve made it.
I don’t know if Erwin will sign and that’s for the club to tell us. But what I do believe is that he’s the sort of target Leeds should be looking at.