Playing with Reece James and facing Jadon Sancho - the education of Leeds United's Brixton produced academic Bryce Hosannah
When Leeds United Under-23s ran out at Hillsborough in February all eyes were on Jean-Kevin Augustin, the new loan signing from RB Leipzig, who, if playing regularly, would carry a £30m to £40m price tag according to Marcelo Bielsa.
A rusty Augustin made little impact in a game he left at half-time. Instead, the player who shone, who drove the Whites upfield repeatedly until, in the 92nd minute, his darting channel run and dangerous low cross forced an own goal to rescue a 2-2 draw, was a player the Whites picked up for free.
In fact Bryce Hosannah had to go through a trial and two friendlies in order to earn a place for himself at Elland Road.
The right-back, now 20, arrived in West Yorkshire with a background that differs from many of his fellow hopefuls.
He was raised in South London and received his footballing education on a Brixton housing estate, alongside an independent school education that yielded five A* and four A grades at GCSE.
His father Roger, a soldier’s son, went to college in America and played professional basketball before a career in the sportswear and fashion industry, while his mother is an executive for a major retailer.
Hosannah showed athletic promise early on as a gymnast, but education always came first.
“Academically he was brilliant, really bright,” said Roger.
“He comes from a family where academics were at the heart of our existence and sports were alongside that. I always stressed to him until you’ve got your grades your football has to complement your academics. My mother was a caterer at a family-owned independent primary, so he had access to education really early. He was in classes at four and always doing homework.”
He arrived in football relatively late, at eight and his formative years were spent at Afewee Urban Football Club, a non-profit grassroots academy in Brixton that produced Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne and former Crystal Palace man, Sean Scannell.
“Bryce has been fortunate to have a privileged upbringing,” said Roger.
“But, despite that and the fact that he was an independent schoolboy, he learned his football on a Brixton housing estate. I wanted him to understand the basics of football and the basics of life.
“The whole football subculture around South London is really interesting.
“It’s not by accident he’s a product of that kind of background and upbringing. There are a number of players coming through that pathway.”
And Hosannah’s pathway did not, initially, take him through a professional club’s academy.
“I’m not a fan of kids going into academies too soon, I was trying to keep him away from that with more of a focus on playing for fun, playing district and county football,” said Roger.
In his final year of primary Hosannah played for Chelsea scout Fiona Armfield and her Croydon district team, getting to a national semi-final and taking on Trent Alexander-Arnold in a Liverpool district XI.
Roger soon realised that all the best kids were in academies and agreed that, if his son could get a scholarship, they would work something out.
Chelsea and Crystal Palace were keen and the latter’s proximity to home sealed the deal.
“We were able to manage academy football while keeping up his academic studies at Trinity School,” said Roger. He also received extra coaching from Anthony Gale, son of ex-West Ham defender and Blackburn Rovers Premier League winner Tony, at the Nigel James Academy, honing his skills with some of the capital’s finest young talents.
“He was playing on a weekly basis with Reece James of Chelsea,” said Roger. “In the summer they played in a north-south game and Bryce played on a team with Reece and a couple of Arsenal boys. The north team had Jadon Sancho, with Reiss Nelson.”
Having continued to prioritise his studies and with stellar GCSE results tucked under his arm, Hosannah left Trinity School in 2015 to focus on football at Palace.
He left an impression on the school.
Matt Richbell, director of sport, remembers the footballer well: "He was a bright boy who did well in a highly academic school. What he was able to do well was strike a balance between keeping on top of his academic work and playing sport.
"He had a lot of demands placed on him with academy football, school sport and his academic work and from what I remember he coped well with the challenge.
"He didn’t take up a place in sixth form because he wanted to follow a footballing path by joining Palace."
It became apparent, however, that his future did not lie in the familiar surroundings of South London and football looked set to take him away from England.
“We were given the understanding he wasn’t going to get a pro’ contract fairly early on in his second year and, at that point, we engaged an agent and managed his exit, for the best to be honest,” said Roger. “He was actually going to sign with Twente in Holland.
“At the end of his second year as a scholar, we went to some trials to get some exposure to clubs in Germany. Freiburg showed some interest but couldn’t find the money. He was working out with QPR and injured his ankle which shut down the rest of the season but Twente kept it open for him and he was actually in Holland when his representative, Rob Moore, spoke to Victor Orta, at Middlesbrough.
“When Victor moved to Leeds, Rob got a call asking if Bryce was still available. Rob said he’s in Holland, but he would prefer to stay in England, we’ll need a quick decision.
“He went up to Leeds for a week’s trial, played in two friendlies and never returned.”
The trial turned into a deal and an impressive first year led to a two-year extension in 2018.
A tendinopathy of the groin took him out of action for three months during Marcelo Bielsa’s first season in charge and, upon his return, he turned his ankle.
Bielsa included Hosannah in the pre-season squad that toured Australia but a dislocated shoulder, sustained in the first 23s game against Millwall, ruled him out for months again, although he still received a new deal in September. “He’s just had some really rotten luck with injuries,” said Roger.
Injuries haven’t been his only challenge – Hosannah’s path to the first team is currently blocked by two of the club’s most consistent senior pro’s.
“It’s a team challenging for the Premier League and he’s playing behind Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas who have both had outstanding seasons, so he just hasn’t had an opportunity to get some exposure in the first team.
“It’s frustrating but he’s in a fantastic system, in a great club and playing under a world-class coach.”
There was the potential for Hosannah’s Elland Road stay to come to an end in January, but the club closed the door on the possibility and, for now, he remains a student of the game under one of its most revered professors.
Roger said: “I know there were some conversations Carlos Corberan had with more senior 23s players, Bryce included, regarding loans and Bryce had a number of approaches in January but Carlos had made it clear the club wanted him to stay.
“We tested the club, a Scottish Premier League team made a firm offer and Victor declined so his focus has just been on fighting for a place and trying to do his best for the 23s.
“We’re getting to that point where he does need first-team football but it’s a balancing act.
“He’s been training under Carlos’ tutelage for a couple of years now and working under a world-class coach in Marcelo.
“Would he be learning more than he is now if he went to a club on loan where you’re not necessarily getting that kind of training and focus?
“It’s a really difficult one but, at this point, the feeling, before the virus put paid to everything, was to try and finish off the season strongly and reassess the situation when the club knows its status.
“He’s got a similar challenge to a few of the 23s but that comes with being at a successful club on the brink of the Premier League.
“He knows the history of the club. When he first signed, he said ‘dad, this is a different level to Crystal Palace’.
“Not just working on a day-to-day basis with Marcelo but seeing his background and what he’s done in the past with the national teams and Bilbao.
“My son knows he’s in a very privileged position.
“Hopefully, he’ll be there for a few years more and, hopefully, he’ll get a chance in the first team at some point.”