Who is Sam Greenwood? Teenage free-kick expert on Marcelo Bielsa's bench for Leeds United v Manchester United

Sam Greenwood has been named on the Leeds United bench for today's clash with Manchester United at Elland Road.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 25th April 2021, 1:03 pm
Updated Sunday, 25th April 2021, 1:04 pm
CALLED UP - Under 23s striker Sam Greenwood is on the bench for today's Leeds United v Manchester United game at Elland Road. Pic: Getty
CALLED UP - Under 23s striker Sam Greenwood is on the bench for today's Leeds United v Manchester United game at Elland Road. Pic: Getty

It's the first time the England youth international striker has been included in the squad for a Premier League game by Marcelo Bielsa.

Greenwood was the two-footed kid in Sunderland’s academy with precocious talent, a flair for the spectacular and an appetite for training that would land him in trouble with Marcelo Bielsa.

Signed last summer from Arsenal, the free-kick expert showed potential early on as a local lad who joined the Black Cats’ system at primary school age.

There were plenty of signs that the striker was one who had a real chance of making it, although any hopes Sunderland had of nurturing him all the way through to the first team were dashed when their offer of a scholarship was trumped by one from Arsenal and, at 16, he swapped the North East for north London.

Paul Bryson worked with Greenwood for years at Sunderland, so was naturally disappointed to see him fly the coop, but the academy coach has fond memories of the forward.

They scouted him at six when he was playing for Soccarena in Durham and extended an invite for him to train with the development squad.

Just one session was all he needed to prove he belonged in their elite squad and by the age of nine Sunderland had signed him.

Bryson first worked with him as an Under-13 player and took charge of his development until he was an Under-16.

“All the way through he was a fantastic lad to coach with a great attitude,” Bryson recalled. “He always had the ability to unlock defences.

“Very good technically and excellent from dead-ball situations.

“His delivery from corners and free-kicks was good and he scored some wonderful goals at Sunderland.”

Greenwood had a tendency to play above his age group, representing the Under-14s at 13 and the Under-18s at 16 and very little appeared to faze him.

“A confident character,” said Bryson.

“When they were in high-pressure situations – I say high pressure, they’re kids but when they were Under-14s and 15s, playing at international tournaments – he thrived on that.

“If there was a penalty he’d take it, if there was a free-kick he wanted to be that player who would produce and score.

“He’s very confident in his own ability and he should be as well.”

On the pitch he was earning a reputation as a striker capable of scoring eye-catching goals.

Bryson can remember a couple of stunners, but what stood out most was that he could do it off either foot.

Greenwood never really had a ‘natural’ foot to kick with and strikes set-pieces with either, perhaps because of the way he is wired – he plays golf and throws right handed but writes with his left.

“There were quite a few,” said the youth coach.

“There’s a goal he scored in an international tournament down at Warwick.

“He scored a fantastic goal against Chelsea up at our academy.

“The biggest thing, he could score as equally a good goal with his right foot as his left foot. He’s got two great feet, technically very good with both.

“I’ve seen footage from his games with England, we got the clips back, and he scored great goals for them too at 15s, 16s and 17s.”

Greenwood was on the right path to success and was happy to work for it.

Bryson remembers him turning up an hour before training and asking for a bag of balls to hone his technique – something that Ian Poveda tried at Thorp Arch not long after his arrival from Manchester City last season, only to be scolded because Bielsa believes every ounce of effort should be exhausted in the training programme he prescribes.

Greenwood loved training and didn’t want to leave the pitch when sessions ended.

And while his reputation grew – he picked up a ‘best attacker’ award at the Premier League’s international tournament, began to get call-ups for England youth teams and attracted scouts to Sunderland academy games – he wasn’t forging a path on his own.

“He was in a good team,” said Bryson.

“The team included Bali Mumba, who has now gone on to Norwich, and Dan Neil who is knocking on the door of our first team now.

“The thing with those three is that they always encouraged each other.

“Training used to be great because they brought the best out of each other. You could see from a young age they were destined to have good careers.”

Sunderland might only get to benefit from the talent of one of the trio but a measure of Greenwood’s success will be their success. The 18-year-old's recent move from Arsenal to Leeds, where he will continue to develop in the Under 23s and attempt to force his way into Marcelo Bielsa's first team squad, is an opportunity to continue the progression he began with his local club.

“I personally loved coaching him.

“He’s got an opportunity and he’s grasped it with both hands. That’s what I’d expect from Sam.

“It’s great for him and it shows the great work the academy staff are doing.

“I’m delighted for him.”