Under 23s head coach Mark Jackson has 'trickiest' job at Leeds United, according to his Whites mentor

New under-23s head coach Mark Jackson now operates in the tricky but rewarding space between a Leeds United academy he himself graduated from and a first team he himself played for.
YOUNG GUNS - Whites Under 23s head coach Mark Jackson, front second from left, with the Leeds United youth teamYOUNG GUNS - Whites Under 23s head coach Mark Jackson, front second from left, with the Leeds United youth team
YOUNG GUNS - Whites Under 23s head coach Mark Jackson, front second from left, with the Leeds United youth team

It’s a difficult job because the responsibilities are numerous and of huge significance to the club’s current and future success. It’s an intense job because first-team head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s attention to detail is obsessive. It’s also a dream job that will allow Jackson to work with top talent.

The Under-23s is a vehicle for Bielsa’s famed adaptation process, by which players get match minutes that contribute to the physical and tactical conditioning required to play for Leeds.

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Under-23s matches are a proving ground to show you’re ready to fulfil the requirements of Bielsaball.

They’re not the proving ground, because Bielsa’s murderball sessions give players another platform upon which an impression on the head coach can be built, but the de facto reserve team and their games are a big part of life at Thorp Arch.

When Eddie Nketiah and Jean-Kevin Augustin attempted to unseat Patrick Bamford in the race for the lone striker role, they had to impress in 23s games.

When Pablo Hernandez came back from one of his niggles last season, he too had to prove his fitness in the care of then 23s coach Carlos Corberan.

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The football played must be a replica of the style Leeds are now known for.

OLD BOY - Mark Jackson came through the academy at Leeds United and has now worked his way back through it to coach the Under 23s. Pic: Mark Bickerdike.OLD BOY - Mark Jackson came through the academy at Leeds United and has now worked his way back through it to coach the Under 23s. Pic: Mark Bickerdike.
OLD BOY - Mark Jackson came through the academy at Leeds United and has now worked his way back through it to coach the Under 23s. Pic: Mark Bickerdike.

And while results might not be the highest priority, no one associated with Elland Road can afford to start accepting defeat, such is the expectation that exists around the club.

While dealing with all of that, Jackson must ensure the potential stars of LS11, including the shiny new and, in some cases expensive additions, are developed and kept on track.

He has the future in his hands, along with a portion of the present too.

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Paul Hart is the man who made a teenage Jackson the Whites Under-18s captain and, two decades later, made him a coach in the same youth system.

He refuses to sugarcoat his description of the role Jackson has accepted.

“The 23s is probably the most difficult job in the club,” he told The Yorkshire Evening Post.

“He works between academy and first team. I would imagine he’ll have dialogue with the first-team coach, he has to be aware of what’s going on in the academy, what’s coming through.

“It’s the trickiest job.

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“You want to bring in the winning mentality. I would imagine the 23s would play in the same way as the first team, you might get first-team players coming down that need games.

“Then you see people getting picked, at Leeds especially where they’re not shy of putting the kids in, so there are rewards.

“It’s a very prestigious job at a huge football club. He’s done really well.”

Hart saw leadership in Jackson in the mid-90s and still holds him in the highest regard.

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“He was in our youth development programme and I made him captain of the Under-18s,” said the Luton Town coach.

“When I was there [at Leeds] the last time, I was aware that he was around and I have tremendous respect for him so I employed him as a coach.

“He was fantastic, I have complete trust in him. Good values, honest and just a thoroughly reliable guy.

“As a coach, he was well prepared, handled the detail, worked hard, eager to learn, everything you want.”

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Jackson took charge of the Under-18s in 2016, alongside former team-mate Andy Gray.

Now an agent whose players include some of those Jackson has helped guide towards the first team, Gray says the new role is a good fit.

“He was very good, very organised, knew the game, very good with the players and getting the best out of them,” said Gray.

“He’s suited to the role in terms of developing players – he’s had a hand in helping the likes of Jamie Shackleton and Robbie Gotts get into the first team. He’s been hard but fair with them, you know where you stand. He gets his point across really well. It’s a logical next step up for him and one he’ll do very well in.”

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And, as Gray points out, this, the trickiest of jobs, comes with an obvious upside, one that coaches making their way in the game worldwide would give their back teeth for.

“It’s very exciting for any young coach working under Marcelo Bielsa, the things you pick up. Getting to tap into that knowledge is very valuable.”