Leeds United Under 23s standout ticks trophy off wishlist as he strives for Premier League football under Marcelo Bielsa
When Cody Drameh put pen to paper on a four-year contract at Leeds United last summer he made his intentions clear.
The former Fulham full-back had spotted an opportunity at Elland Road that wasn’t on offer anywhere else.
Thorp Arch is steeped in history of producing talent and the Premier League status that was acquired last July makes Leeds an even more attractive proposition for those outside of its four walls.
Sporting director Victor Orta has been tasked with attracting talent to the club in the youth ranks - and a move towards investing more heavily in up-and-coming stars has been ever more obvious.
Marcelo Bielsa, though, is one man who currently comes as part of the package on offer with the Whites and, for Drameh, it was something he wasn’t willing to turn down.
“The one player I was interested in was [Manchester City’s] Benjamin Mendy,” Drameh said upon his arrival.
“The way he transformed him [at Marseille]; obviously I am a full-back so, hopefully, he can do similar with me and improve me like that. It was a huge factor for me. I’m just really excited to work with him.”
The 19-year-old was a wanted man before he swapped West London for West Yorkshire, despite failing to make a single first-team appearance during his time at Fulham.
Drameh had made a name for himself in the capital at Craven Cottage among the academy ranks, having been capped at England youth level and been promoted to the club’s Under-23s side at just 18 - featuring in the EFL Trophy against League One and Two opposition.
He has carried on that hype and more since his switch north and is into his eighth month of learning the Bielsa way behind closed doors.
Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood have stolen headlines in the Premier League 2 throughout the year for their goal contributions - but each member of the PL2 Division Two promotion-winning side has had a key role to play.
Drameh has been another stand-out performer under Mark Jackson’s guidance, playing as a wing-back and, on occasion, as part of a back-three whilst striking up a strong understanding with fellow summer arrival and winger Crysencio Summerville.
“I’ve got a great engine and a lot of stamina,” he said when he was asked to describe his own game.
"I like to get up and down the pitch. I can defend well.
“I might need a bit of improvement in attack but that’s what I’m here for, to work under the coaching staff at Leeds and get better.”
It is easy to reflect now on an interview that struck the right line between confidence and arrogance - yet it is no exaggeration to say he undersold himself a tad.
Comparisons with Luke Ayling have been swift - and obvious - in the Leeds system from those who follow the Under-23s ranks but Drameh is his own man and it isn’t hard to see why Leeds were keen to land his signature.
Drameh’s one-v-one defending has been, arguably, some of the best in the development division this season while his ability to time a sliding challenge with a balance of aggression and control has been nothing short of impressive.
Dramah oozes confidence, too, taking the ball in tight areas under pressure and finding solutions without breaking sweat, often producing a flick or touch that wouldn’t be out of place at five-a-side.
His attacking play may have been a perceived weakness before the campaign but it hasn’t taken long for him to adjust to Bielsa’s commitment in allowing his full-backs freedom to roam forward.
Like Ayling, he is often spotted as much in the opposition box as his own and his burst of pace over the halfway line means overlapping runs have been built into his game. Drameh’s form also saw him nominated for the Premier League 2’s Player of the Month award for February.
He is yet to be tested at the top level, or even named in a Bielsa first-team squad at Elland Road, though patience while he adapts his skills away from the senior spotlight is important - Pascal Struijk is the example that it works.
The Premier League 2, many argue, won’t give him the challenge he requires to cut it at Premier League level - a stick which is often used to beat youngsters for FA Cup failings.
The last year, though, has allowed him time to develop, learn and hone his ability in a system that looks ready-built for his skill set - something that cannot be ignored.
Promotion to the top flight of the Premier League 2 now means that there is no higher level for United’s Under-23s to ply their trade in England’s academy structure.
Leeds have a decision to make this summer - does Bielsa stick or twist?
A loan is a possibility, or another year close to the senior squad whilst playing the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and others in the development ranks could be preferred.
And, who knows, maybe even a first-team bow.
“A lot of players have made their debuts over the past few years under Bielsa,” Drameh signed off last summer.
“I’m looking to add my name to that list. First and foremost I want to break into the first team and then, let’s see. The club has ambition - I want to win a few trophies while I’m here.”
A trophy? Tick. First-team involvement? It’ll come.