Marcelo Bielsa on Sam Greenwood and Joe Gelhardt - Leeds United's goalscoring prospects synonymous with exciting potential
Sam Greenwood and Joe Gelhardt are two names that have quickly become synonymous with exciting potential at Leeds United.
The 18-year-olds were both signed in the summer, as part of a plan dreamed up and executed by director of football Victor Orta and head of emerging talent Craig Dean to stock Marcelo Bielsa’s Under-23s with a new crop of bright young things.
Players who had sufficiently developed in the de facto reserves were sent out on loan for the next stage of their development, freeing up space and game time for the new boys, some of whom already had burgeoning reputations in the game.
The words ‘highly rated’ accompanied each new arrival to Thorp Arch and Greenwood, bought from Arsenal and Gelhardt, plucked from crisis club Wigan Athletic, were the poster boys for a vision made real by promotion to the Premier League.
They each scored a dozen goals for England Under-17s, one often replacing the other to lead the attack in the 2018/19 season, and both joined Leeds team-mate Charlie Cresswell in the Three Lions Under-19s squad this season.
The pair of attackers have hit the ground running for Leeds Under-23s in the second tier of Premier League 2 and, by now, must be well accustomed to hearing and reading their names alongside each other.
Even Bielsa himself elected to speak about both, this week, when asked about Greenwood.
“His main position is as a centre-forward,” he said of the ex-Gunners and Sunderland teen.
“Normally he plays in conjunction with Gelhardt in the team.
“Gelhardt is a player who when he is close to the box he is very dangerous and Greenwood is a player who has a lot of capacity to arrive into the free spaces.
“They can play with either Gelhardt in front and Greenwood in behind or the other way around.”
A description more functional than glowing, but to be on the head coach’s radar and part of a 23s set-up into which he is more than happy to dip when his first-team squad requires replacements for injured seniors, shows the youngsters are taking tentative but positive steps along a well-trodden pathway. And they’re taking them side by side.
What is abundantly clear is that Bielsa and Leeds think sufficiently of both youngsters to give them opportunities to play and learn different positions in Mark Jackson’s 23s.
Against Aston Villa on Sunday Greenwood dropped into a deeper attacking midfield role, to impressive effect.
He showed good vision and technique to pick out the run of Niall Huggins who got a shot off but, even from positions much further from goal than his familiar hunting ground, the striker’s instinct was apparent.
A nice touch to Gelhardt had no sooner left his boot than he was off, sprinting to the area and following in a Pablo Hernandez shot, sniffing a rebound.
Another dart into the area took him onto a Leif Davis pass and his cross struck a hand, earning Leeds a penalty he took himself to beat Tom Heaton and level the scores at 2-2.
That was the two-footed teenager’s sixth goal in seven PL2 outings.
Gelhardt, who played as a striker and as a number 10 in Sunday’s game, has scored four, three of which came in his two outings prior to the Villa game. If Greenwood's unique selling point is his equal ability in both feet, Gelhardt's is the quickness of his feet.
Prolific goalscoring exploits for the 23s is no guarantor of future first-team involvement – Ryan Edmondson’s impressive record in front of goal did net him senior experience this season but at Aberdeen on loan, not at Leeds.
And not even Bielsa’s admiration is enough, in some cases.
Robbie Gotts, a player the head coach values highly, left Elland Road to join Lincoln City on loan having had just six minutes of Championship action to show for his inclusion in 21 matchday squads last season.
With eight-goal Patrick Bamford, £27m Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts – the player to whom Bielsa turned against West Ham when he felt he needed to replace Bamford – all ahead of them in the pecking order, the youngsters might only make that step up to the Premier League in exceptional circumstances this season and even then, inevitably one will make that step before the other. Then it’ll be Greenwood or Gelhardt, not Greenwood and Gelhardt.
The luxury, for Leeds, is that when the time comes Bielsa will have two versatile attacking options to choose from.