Playing for the Whites has been the lifelong ambition of countless little boys growing up in and around Leeds and Shackleton was no different in that regard, he just happens to be achieving it.
The time that has elapsed since Shackleton first dreamed that dream is still relatively short. He turned 22 on Friday, just a couple of days late to have enjoyed the rare luxury of a football-season birthday falling on a day off. Shackleton and the rest of Marcelo Bielsa’s squad not heading off on international duty were given a few days to rest and recover after their win over Watford.
If it feels like he’s been around the block a bit, it’s because his age belies his experience. This is his fourth season of first-team football and the entirety of his senior career has played out under one head coach - Bielsa. The Argentine handed him a professional debut at the age of 18 and 69 further first-team appearances have followed that 4-1 win at Derby County.
Under Bielsa he has experienced the euphoria of playing a part in returning Leeds to the Premier League, lined up against world-class, world-famous footballers in the country’s biggest stadiums and worn the internationally recognised white shirt of his boyhood team in some huge games.
“I always said when I was asked as a kid that it was the dream so to be doing it is pretty special,” he told the YEP.
“It was always my aim to break into the first team and to be playing minutes here. It was always the dream as a kid. For the past four years I’ve been here, it’s been my aim.
“It probably gives my friends and family more of a buzz than me, they absolutely love it. They’re all big Leeds fans and they’re right behind me.”
The last few weeks have been especially good for Shackleton and his family. After a 2020/21 season that threatened to spark into wholescale involvement in the first team before a prolonged period as an unused substitute, Shackleton has ‘evolved’ as his boss might say.
Bielsa has used him in five of the club’s seven Premier League outings and started him in the last two, in the absence of regular right-back Luke Ayling.
“I’ve been around the first team a long time,” he said.
“This is my fourth season with the squad so it’s been a while. It’s enjoyable to be playing minutes and help the team. I think there are areas of my game that have definitely improved over the last 12 months, I think defensively playing as a right-back that area of my game has improved.”