The question facing Jamie Shackleton as fellow Leeds United prospects reap rewards of 2020 decision

What would you do if you were Jamie Shackleton?

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 11:43 am
BIG CALL - Jamie Shackleton might stay on the verge of the Leeds United first team but other youngsters have reaped the rewards of a loan move. Pic: Getty

The promising dawn of those six consecutive substitute appearances at the turn of the year and the back-to-back February starts at Arsenal and Wolves feel a very long time ago now.

Since the defeat at Molineux Shackleton has played for Marcelo Bielsa s first team just once, as a late, late substitute against Manchester City at the Etihad.

It was only an injury to Raphinha that presented a stoppage time introduction for Shackleton and he hasn't featured at all in the four games that have followed that win.

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The ever-present prospect of being called upon by Bielsa is probably enough to quell any pangs of jealousy as fellow academy graduates Alfie McCalmont and Robbie Gotts amassed 54 Football League starts between them.

Football's mountain has many paths and Shackleton, in truth probably a little ahead of any outbound loanees in the pecking order, stayed on the Thorp Arch track this season when others walked unfamiliar ground at a lower level.

There is, plainly, an awful lot to be said for sitting at Bielsa's feet for as long as possible and soaking up the wisdom, just as there is for gaining matchday experience by any other means.

And there's no rush. If Stuart Dallas didn't arrive as a Premier League midfielder until he was on the cusp of his 30s, 21-year-old Shackleton should feel no pressure to make it just yet.

Time is on his side. It's not, however, standing still.

With talk of midfield reinforcements being sought for a second season in the Premier League and as Cody Drameh gallops into position as Luke Ayling's potential long-term successor, Shackleton can rightly ask: 'what next for me?'

Are Premier League minutes less likely with new faces arriving in the position he favours and if so, would he be best served by a 2021/22 campaign out on loan, if indeed Bielsa would acquiesce to such a move? Shackleton is, after all, a useful, quick, tidy and versatile young man to have around.

He showed enough of that last season to suggest a small number of Championship clubs and most League One outfits would likely prick up their ears if his name was to be circulated as a possible temporary signing.

A chat with either McCalmont or Gotts, for whom next season has got to present a step up in the form of another loan at a higher level, would provide persuasive arguments for following in their footsteps. Neither regret their decision to head out.

If he stays put and even if he doesn't break into Bielsa's side, the Under 23s will be up against better opposition in the Premier League 2 top flight, presenting an opportunity for further development and game time, though his first-team commitments restricted him to three starts for Mark Jackson's side this term.

Whatever he decides, his 2021/22 season will be what he makes it.

If he does everything in his power to improve himself, regardless of his environment or the shirt he's wearing, the decision tips towards a win-win situation.

It still presents yet another intriguing summer scenario. If you could put yourself in the shoes containing those lightning-quick feet, what would you do?