Why Sam Greenwood's Leeds United hard yards are paving his way after Manchester United involvement

When Sam Greenwood was named in Leeds United's squad to face Manchester United you knew it was hard earned.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 12:00 pm
Leeds United forward Sam Greenwood in action against Blackpool in the EFL Trophy. Pic: Getty

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa doesn't believe in making token gestures to the club's rising stars - if you're on the bench in the Premier League then you're ready to play; just ask Niall Huggins about his cameo at Arsenal.

Greenwood was part of the incoming haul of development talent last summer as Victor Orta planned for the future after promotion at senior level was secured and category one elite academy status was achieved.

Charlie Allen, Cody Drameh, Joe Gelhardt Dani Van Den Heuvel and Crysencio Summerville were all added to the already renowned Thorp Arch ranks in West Yorkshire.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Nine months in and Leeds are Premier League 2 Division Two champions and heading to the top division of England's academy structure, having seamlessly blended new signings with the homegrown talent at Thorp Arch.

Greenwood landed from Arsenal with a growing reputation in the game at Under-18s level and Leeds were forced to part with £1.5m - a sum which could eventually rise to £3m - for his sought-after services.

The former Sunderland man arrived box ready as a number nine from North London but has been moulded into something different this season under Bielsa's watchful eye.

On first glance his stats look strong for an out and out forward - 17 league appearances for the Whites have brought 10 goals, with another coming in a friendly against York City last month - but it isn't where he has played the majority of his football in a Leeds shirt.

Close friend and England youth teammate Gelhardt has often been the leading man in Mark Jackson's Under-23s setup, which has seen Greenwood take up the next phase of his development as an attacking midfielder - even moving further back on occasion.

It was there where he made his first team bow in the FA Cup in January at Crawley Town for half an hour and it is there where he has caught the attention.

Greenwood has had to find new and different ways to impact games going forward and has forged a strong partnership with Gelhardt - but six yellow cards attest to his eagerness to get involved going back the other way too.

The ex-Gunners front man isn't lightning quick nor does he possess huge strength in terms of being able to hold up the ball. He does, though, have two great feet, an eye for goal and a strong awareness which has meant he has consistently found pockets of space to spread the ball around in between the opposition defence.

His newfound role hasn't halted his ability in the goalscoring department, boasting a free-kick highlight reel that has often left onlookers and teammates open-mouthed. Nor has it dulled his poacher's instinct, as showcased with the sharpest of turns and finishes on Monday against Fulham.

"It's hours of practice," Greenwood said recently of his dead ball ability.

"Just constantly taking them. After school I used to just get a bag of balls and practice. I've done it since such a young age."

The old saying is that practice makes perfect and it is no wonder then with that attitude he has taken to his task with such ease and assurance this season.

Leeds could have gone down another route with his development - and may yet still next year - when Championship side Swansea City came knocking to enquire about a loan move on deadline day in the winter transfer window.

Bielsa opted to keep him in-house, though, and Greenwood has reaped the rewards in the form of a Three Lions Under-19s call-up and now a Premier League 2 title winners medal.

His inclusion against the Red Devils was a further indicator that he's on the right track and moving towards the next step of his development.