Transformation of Benjamin Mendy made pundit eat a rat - Leeds United youngster hoping Marcelo Bielsa will improve him too
Modern-day full-backs like recent Leeds United departure Gjanni Alioski or his replacement Junior Firpo are known principally for their attacking profile but, in Cody Drameh, the Whites have a throwback.
The 19-year-old arrived at Thorp Arch last summer with a reputation beyond that of many of his peers, thanks to the promise he showed at Fulham.
Capped at England youth level and promoted from the Craven Cottage academy side to their Under-23s aged just 18, Drameh picked up some EFL Trophy experience before packing his backs for a move up north.
He made no secret of his ambition to make a first-team breakthrough but admitted there was plenty for Marcelo Bielsa to work on, mostly in terms of going forward, which is something the Whites head coach asks his full-backs to do constantly.
“I can defend well,” said Drameh. “I might need a bit of improvement in attack but that’s what I’m here for, to work under the coaching staff at Leeds and get better.”
Drameh’s hope was that Bielsa could do with him what he did with Benjamin Mendy, now at Manchester City, while the pair worked together at Marseille.
“The one player I was interested in was [Manchester City’s] Benjamin Mendy,” Drameh said last summer.
“The way he transformed him; obviously I am a full-back so, hopefully, he can do similar with me and improve me like that.
“It was a huge factor for me. I’m just really excited to work with him.”
Football Club de Marseille journalist Mourad Aerts witnessed a ‘major’ change in Mendy during Bielsa’s spell at the Stade Vélodrome.
“Before Bielsa, we could see the obvious qualities of Mendy but it was pretty hard to imagine him not being a liability at high level,” he told The YEP.
“One of our glorious pundits, Éric Di Meco [a legendary ex-OM player], went as far as saying ‘if Mendy goes one day in French national team, I’ll eat a rat’. And so he did.
“Bielsa gave clear structure to Mendy, he had clear orders to follow on the pitch. This structure was adapted to the technical and physical capacities of Mendy. I’ve often wondered if he has been that good again in his career. Maybe in Monaco.
“Bielsa was able to expose the full potential of Mendy.”
In the words of the three-time Premier League winner himself, Bielsa ‘woke’ him up and transformed him from a player who slept during the head coach’s classroom analysis sessions to a student of the game.
“Playing with Bielsa... amazing, he helped me a lot,” Mendy told The Football Show last year.
“The tactics and everything, I was asking so many questions, more and more all the time.
“With his help, I learned how to watch video for the details. I became very interested in video and tactics. That was his effect on me. I always tell people: Bielsa woke me up.”
Drameh had his eyes open even before he walked into one of Bielsa’s meetings and whatever he saw and heard last season had an impact on his game. Ben Parker, a full-back who came through the Leeds academy to play 55 times for Leeds, watched Drameh all season as part of LUTV’s Under-23s coverage. What he witnessed was a season-long masterclass in the art of defending, with steady attacking improvement.
“He’s 10 times better than I ever was at defending, put it that way,” he said. “I haven’t seen a winger go past him on a one v one. I was watching the last game of the season scratching my head and thinking has there ever been a time when a winger has gone past him? If so I really can’t remember. He’s a bit of a throwback defender. You want to see your full-backs getting forward and looking good on the ball but we don’t talk as much about actual defending. First and foremost, he loves his defending. No one gets past him. Over the course of the season he’s developed when it comes to getting forward, going on the overlap. For him to get a goal against Burnley capped a fantastic individual season. You do need to be good going forward but I love how dedicated he is to the craft of one-v-one defending.”
Drameh’s defensive aggression and athleticism are key parts to his game as he continues to work hard to become the well-rounded full-back Bielsa wants him to be.
There will need to be evidence of yet more development on the attacking front, more danger and chances created, more assists and a goal or two.
His 2021/22 season, despite significant loan interest, will likely play out predominantly in Premier League 2 with Mark Jackson’s Under-23s, but the hope at Leeds is that this is their long-term successor to Luke Ayling and a player who can break through into first-team football.
The hope is that Bielsa can expose his full potential.