Leeds United Under 18s chief on the secret of academy success

Leeds United Under-18s head coach Mark Jackson spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post back in February
Leeds United's Under-18s at Old Trafford. (Getty)Leeds United's Under-18s at Old Trafford. (Getty)
Leeds United's Under-18s at Old Trafford. (Getty)

As Mark Jackson emerges from the tunnel at Old Trafford there is a moment of reflection before his post-match media duties begin.

The Leeds United Under-18s head coach had just watched his side fall to a battling 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup.

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Leeds - who were backed by 1,500 raucous fans in Lancashire - were unlucky to lose out on the night and had chances late on to take the game into extra-time, even when harshly reduced to 10 men.

On the pitch it was a meeting of two old foes that attracted attention for both fanbases, but the reality of the cold February night was very different.

Manchester United - a category one academy - welcomed Leeds, who were rated as a tier two.

The two teams were literally leagues and an academy ranking apart but on the night the Whites put on a performance that displayed the club's sheer determination and willingness to produce talent.

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Thorp Arch has an endless list of names who have gone on to boast success in the game in recent years - but it's hard to think of many other academies being as consistent.

This week's announcement that the youth ranks at Elland Road will now move to category one status - for the first time in the club's history - feels like it has been a long time coming.

The switch will see the Whites Under-23s and Under-18s sides move into the Premier League 2 ranks respectively, and with it brings more funding.

For Jackson, it means more nights like the one in February over the Pennines taking on opposition who will really test the production line he and his fellow coaches continue to nurture in impressive fashion.

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Leeds have been the fourth-most productive youth system in English football in the past six years and once the moment is over and the dictaphone begins to record, a smirk appears on Jackson's face when asked whether there is something in the water at Thorp Arch.

"It's good people and good staff," Jackson tells the YEP, explaining the success of the academy.

"We have talented coaches and that's throughout all the age groups right down to the foundation phase. I think that is vital to having a healthy academy, you have to have coaches who care for the club and players and want to see them progress.

"They're also willing to push the players, sometimes you've got to push them to breaking point and test them to give them that mentality - particularly to play for Leeds United.

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"You've got people on the coaching staff who have experienced that."

In all successful Leeds United sides past and present there has been a wealth of local talent.

In Marcelo Bielsa's outfit Kalvin Phillips is the leading light, while the likes of Jamie Shackleton and Robbie Gotts have pushed senior pros for places all season.

"You've got to work closely together," Jackson continues.

"With the history of this football club it has happened over the years. Young players have gone up, we've got a manager now who is willing to do that and blood the young players into the first team.

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"It's fantastic for us as a set of coaches to see the likes of Shackleton, Gotts, Oli Casey then you have the likes of Jack Jenkins, Charlie Cresswell, Stuart McKinstry and Nohan Kenneh.

"I've worked with these boys for many years, so to see them progressing and getting the opportunity to do so is fantastic. The pathway is there so they have to go and prove it."

Since Bielsa's arrival in West Yorkshire the academy has continued to thrive.

Carlos Corberan has taken on a dual role as an Under-23s and first team coach to help manage the pathway between while Jackson continues to mould the Under-18s.

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The Argentine's arrival has signalled what has felt like a stronger use of young players throughout the first team squad, but not a lot has changed behind the gates of the training ground.

"Leeds United has a clear identity and what the manager has brought is a vast experience," Jackson added.

"He's had little tweaks in the way that he does things and it's great for us as coaches to be able to observe that and see how he works, particularly the intensity of his play and how we gets his team working.

"We try and emulate that, certainly at Under-18s, the work rate and desire to outrun and outfight teams. But ultimately that has been in the DNA of Leeds United for many, many years.

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"When I was watching them growing up as a kid and when I managed to come through and play. Even before then the likes of Eddie Gray, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner - it's that fighting mentality.

"The manager is a perfect fit for that, we try and take what we can from the first team and prepare these lads to go and play on that stage."