Leeds United youngster reveals 'ultimate goal' and breaks silence on hilarious off-field mischief
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Lower league football has provided the foundation for many a successful career amongst Leeds United’s current crop of players. Captain Liam Cooper featured regularly in the third and fourth tier before signing for the Whites, while Luke Ayling had four full seasons of League One football before making his Premier League bow at 29.
Current Leeds youngster Lewis Bate has already made a handful of appearances in English football’s top flight, and fleeting as they may have been, the 20-year-old has an appetite for more. His route has been decidedly different to that of Ayling and Cooper, educated at Chelsea’s renowned Cobham academy setup, before sealing a seven-figure transfer to Elland Road last summer, with a burgeoning reputation in youth football.
After an initial twelve month period acclimatising to new surroundings, a player mostly on the fringes of first-team affairs, club and player sought a loan move to enhance his practical understanding of the game in a senior environment.
The pursuit of which has brought him to places such as Accrington Stanley’s Wham Stadium, a world away from the plush greenery of Cobham, or the state-of-the-art facilities at Thorp Arch, where the YEP speaks exclusively to the highly-rated midfielder.
"The manager played a big role, when I spoke to Karl Robinson on the phone,” Bate says, describing his decision to join mid-table League One side Oxford United on loan for the 2022/23 campaign.
"As much as it was about learning the men's game, I wanted to get consistent minutes and I feel like I've done that here so far. Hopefully the further we go in the season, I can keep getting minutes.”
Bate speaks following the U’s 1-1 draw with Stanley, in which he struck the woodwork, showcased expert passing range and kept things neat and tidy under pressure in the centre of the park. The Leeds loanee was substituted on 76 minutes, with the visitors leading, before Accrington’s Ethan Hamilton levelled proceedings with a long-range effort five minutes from time.
A first-half punctuated by few clear-cut chances saw Bate curl an effort onto the frame of the goal early on, as he searches for his first goal of the season from defensive midfield. The speed with which matches are played in League One may be lesser than the Premier League, but the physicality and intensity is certainly a step up from junior football in Premier League 2, where Bate played the bulk of his football last season.
"It’s [physicality] something that I've had to work on a lot because the second balls, like you saw today, are a big part of the game.
"I try and play my game still, when the ball comes to me I still try not to go long, just try and keep calm because the end of the day that’s the type of player I am, I’m not going to change. Obviously, I know I'm never going to win headers, it's never going to be my game, but as long as I can compete, then that's good enough.”
A key reason for Bate’s loan move, he says, was to gain that experience in a more rough-and-tumble environment. Those who witnessed his displays for Leeds’ Under-23 side could easily identify the youngster’s technical proficiency, ability to escape pressure with a dribble and distribute from deep, but there remained terrace question marks over his slight build.
Against Accrington, the 20-year-old held his own in the middle of the park, releasing possession promptly in order to mitigate the need to engage in a physical battle. At times, Bate’s on-ball intelligence shone through, surpassing the majority of those he shared the pitch with, as one might expect from a heralded Chelsea academy graduate.
While opposition challenges are something Bate need not be too wary of, Leeds teammate and former housemate Sean McGurk poses the defensive midfielder a different kind of problem. Featuring on Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Academy Dreams: Leeds United’ documentary, Bate and McGurk’s relationship was a particular highlight, especially the latter’s frequent jump-scare videos he would regularly catch Bate out with.
"We get along so well and we're from completely different parts of England, as well. When I first met him, I weren't too sure on him. I got closer and closer and we lived together for long parts of last season.
"The scaring videos, I know some of them potentially look fake, but genuinely I didn't know he was there at all. And I know it happens over and over again, but when you least expect it, he's there. You're not worrying where he is, and then suddenly he's coming to get you."
With Bate on the League One circuit and McGurk currently away with Leeds’ Under-21s in Spain, the pair haven’t had chance to meet up of late, something the former says he is looking forward to doing. As for his plans for the future, Bate remains focused on clearly-defined short, medium and long-term goals.
"Obviously, I moved to Leeds last summer for a reason. And I'd say I fell in love with the club. The way it is at Leeds, it's a top, top club and obviously if you want to play in the Premier League, Leeds is a fantastic place to be. This season was always about getting minutes and getting a feel for first-team football, and then that is the plan to go back to Leeds. But if that doesn't happen straightaway, then we'll see. Again, it won't set me back. But my ultimate goal is to play for Leeds in the Premier League."