Why Leeds United youngster Joe Gelhardt is right where he needs to be with Marcelo Bielsa

It has been a whirlwind season for Joe Gelhardt since his arrival at Leeds United last summer.

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 5:56 pm
Leeds United youngster Joe Gelhardt warms up ahead of the Whites game at Arsenal. Pic: Getty

There was a moment of relative calm post-match following Leeds United’s victory over Fulham on Friday night.

The Whites had just earned a battling and rare three points in the capital under the Premier League lights in southwest London.

Radio headsets were being packed away and fingers were furiously hitting laptops among those lucky enough to be inside the four walls of Craven Cottage.

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Patrick Bamford was up first for media duties, followed by Kalvin Phillips and then it was head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s turn to reflect on a hard-fought 2-1 win.

Amid the scene behind the trio as they answered questions, United’s players, those who had been used fleetingly or not at all, were being put through their paces.

Fitness coach Benoit Delaval was overseeing things as late substitutes Robin Koch and Mateusz Klich were joined by a number of the club’s up and coming youngsters.

Among them was highly-rated prospect Joe Gelhardt – his sixth experience of being with the senior squad on a Premier League matchday.

Joffy, as he is affectionately known, has very much been seen and not heard in Bielsa’s first team ranks this season.

He took to the playing surface with the cameras focused elsewhere, sprinting from touchline to touchline and blowing hard with his socks firmly pulled down.

Gelhardt has eight goals in 14 Premier League 2 appearances following his summer move from Wigan Athletic – impressing as both a striker and playmaker.

As the lawnmowers sprung into action he slowly made his way down the tunnel to gather his things and board the team bus – watching, waiting and taking it in.

Yards away, Bielsa – among the many questions of top flight safety and a long-awaited London win – was asked about the 18-year-old and how close he was to being Premier League ready.

“These questions are answered when the player competes and shows that he is ready,” Bielsa said after a pause.

“He has a role in which he occupies in the squad. He is where he is on merit with regards to the players that the club possesses. But to say how he’s going to play when it is his turn is difficult.”

For Bielsa and Leeds, Joffy is right where he needs to be.

At 18, he has landed from across the Pennines with comparisons of Wayne Rooney and stories of how he once scored 10 goals against Huddersfield Town.

It has been hard to keep a lid on the excitement for those who keep a close eye on the club’s Under-23s team. Driving runs, an arrow of a shot and an ability to glide past players as if they were standing still has left fans yearning for more.

Gelhardt has been allowed to peek through the window of the Premier League thus far and continues to be moulded behind Thorp Arch’s closed doors.

When the time inevitably does come to be thrust into the bright lights during a match and not a warm down, Leeds and Bielsa want him to be as ready as possible to take his opportunity.

“It’s not necessarily about what he does in the next six months,” Gregor Rioch, Wigan’s academy manager, told the YEP last year.

“It’s over the period of the next three to four years.”

Eight months into a four-year deal, words that still seemingly ring true.

Joffy has time on his side.