From Sheffield Wednesday rejection to Morecambe reserves to Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United - the rise of Leif Davis
Leif Davis went from the fringe of the Morecambe first team to the starting XI at Leeds United in just six months.
The speed of his ascent from League Two reserve football to a full Championship debut poses a somewhat awkward question for the Shrimps – why was a player deemed good enough for a promotion-chasing second-tier club by world-renowned head coach Marcelo Bielsa not able to force his way into the Shrimps’ team?
It is a question that has been asked at board level at Morecambe since Davis walked out to play in Bielsa’s defence at Villa Park on December 23, 2018.
In fairness to Jim Bentley, the man in charge of the Shrimps at the time when Davis was training with the first team as a promising scholar, they were entrenched in a relegation battle and only stayed in the Football League by virtue of goal difference.
Left-back Luke Conlan, five years Davis’ senior and in his third campaign, was one of Morecambe’s best performers and, with so much at stake, in such a rough-and-tumble division, perhaps it is no surprise that Bentley chose not to throw an untested 17-year-old in.
Bentley, now at AFC Fylde, admits Davis’ ‘massive’ progress has taken him by surprise.
“He left Morecambe without making a single appearance and within six months he was in the first team at Leeds playing in the Championship,” said Bentley.
“We had better players and more experienced players ahead of him. We identify young lads we think can come in and progress; it’s not always the case that they do. But in his case, towards the end of his time at Morecambe, he was in the eye of myself and my staff with how well he was doing in the reserves. It was obvious that he was going to progress to become a pro’.
“We didn’t really see him doing that at that stage, he wasn’t far away from getting a taste of the first team, but his progress has been massive, it’s come very quickly and long may that continue.
“To not play in League Two and play in the Championship in six months is fantastic for him, for Leeds and for us because we got him on the pathway and he’s doing really well.”
Morecambe signed Davis to a scholarship after he impressed academy boss Stewart Drummond in a game for Wallsend Boys Club Under-16s.
Drummond recalls a young Geordie with plenty of potential but a few issues to iron out.
“He had similar attributes to what he has now; a great engine, pace, fit, aggressive in the tackle,” said Drummond.
“He had a nice left foot, delivered the ball really well, all the basic attributes you try to find in players at that age.
“Leif had one or two little psychological issues to deal with at the time.
“He won’t mind me saying he was quite difficult to manage at times when he came in.
“We recruit quite a few Geordies and they can find it difficult to settle in, there’s some home sickness and Leif suffered from that a little bit from time to time.
“He wasn’t one of the easiest scholars in the world to manage, but he had undoubted ability that we persevered with. He’s come out the other side of it now.”
All Davis was lacking in Lancashire was a chance, Drummond believes.
But his eyebrows have also been raised by the defender’s progress since leaving in the summer of 2018.
“It’s the sort of conversation I have with the board quite often, why is a young kid who was our scholar not getting a chance here but has gone to Leeds?
“It has been a bit surprising how quickly he’s got his opportunity.
“Credit to Leeds’ staff that they’ve seen he’s got that potential, they’ve really pushed him on, he’s kicked on a little quicker than certainly I thought and quite a few other people did.
“What he probably lacked here was that chance in the first team. He trained with the first team and played in the reserves but never got that opportunity to burst onto the scene with the first team.
“He has matured, he’s another year or so older, that’s helped him to settle down. Every credit to Leif and the Leeds staff, they’ve taken a chance on him.
“They identified something, saw something and he’s kicked on.”
Davis’ leap up the pyramid is one that few can have foreseen, but Andrew Ferguson did.
A Wallsend Boys Club coach, Ferguson played football with Davis’ father, Anthony, for Dudley and Weetslade Working Men’s Social Club.
“He was committed, let’s just say that,” said Ferguson, of Davis senior. Ferguson has watched Davis junior develop since he was six. “Leif was one of those players you would never say he had been outstanding that day, but every week you got an eight out of 10,” he said.
“You can see at six or eight who has the natural, dynamic ability, who can go past people.
“Leif was up and down, non-stop.
“He stayed under the radar: Newcastle and Sunderland should have taken him at that time. He’s always been very good.”
When Davis reached his early teens, Ferguson suggested that Sheffield Wednesday take a look, but they wouldn’t, so to Morecambe the youngster went.
“I was working for Wednesday as a youth-team and first-team scout and I went down there to try and get them to take him but they had a boy called Fraser Preston who they deemed better, they wouldn’t take a look at Leif,” he said.
“I knew Stewart at Morecambe and I said I’ve got a left-footer you’ve got to take a look at.
“He went there and flourished.”
While Morecambe’s role in the development of Davis cannot be overlooked, Ferguson believes they erred in not playing him in League Two.
“It’s all about opinions,” he said.
“Leif could have played in the first team at Morecame. When you watched him in the 18s, watching other left-backs in League One or League Two, I knew he was better.
“Age is a number. Even at 16, 17 he was good enough. He might have made mistakes in some games but he had the capacity to take it on board.
“When he wasn’t getting in, I know there were two clubs came in with big bids, bigger bids than Leeds paid. I said stick it out and you’ll get your chance.”
The YEP understands Brighton and Reading were both keen on the teenager, but it was Leeds United who snapped him up in July 2018, for a fee believed to be in the region of £50,000.
The three-and-a-half year contract extension he signed last month says so much about how things have gone ever since and there is little doubt his value has increased significantly.
“He fully deserves his new contract,” said Ferguson.
The man for whom Davis’ achievements to date have come as no surprise, makes a bold prediction about the future will hold for the 19-year-old.
“If I could put a bet on that he’d play for England – I would.
“He will get international caps.”