Leeds United supplemented their standout under-23 side this summer with various additions in a number of positions.
Sean McGurk left Wigan Athletic for Thorp Arch after a year-long pursuit, Amari Miller swapped Birmingham City for Leeds, while Leo Hjelde and Lewis Bate departed Celtic and Chelsea respectively.
It mirrored last summer’s aggressive under-23 recruitment, which saw Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood, Cody Drameh and Crysencio Summerville come in – all of whom appear on the cusp of making their Premier League debuts at some point this season.
While it is unrealistic to assume all eight players named above will one day become Leeds regulars, there is a fair assumption some of them may feature prominently in the first team in years to come.
Lewis Bate’s addition raised eyebrows among the youth football and scouting community earlier this summer.
Here was one of Chelsea’s Cobham academy bright lights, opting for a move despite prior suggestions he could one day anchor the Blues’ midfield.
Bate had a year remaining on his contract, and therefore a decision to make.
With no indication of first-team minutes in the immediate future, loan moves likely and a track record of recent Chelsea graduates finding their first-team wings elsewhere, Bate took a leap of faith.
Chelsea’s deadline day addition of Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez further proves that for many youngsters like Bate, the route to first-team football at Chelsea is clouded by a Galactico-esque desire to compete at the very summit of world football, represented by some of the biggest names.
The same applies for Tino Livramento, now of Southampton, AS Roma’s Tammy Abraham, AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori, Brighton & Hove Albion wing-back Tariq Lamptey and Marc Guehi who made the cross-town move to Crystal Palace.
Mason Mount and Reece James buck the trend, but both are supreme talents. Even in Mount’s case, his accession to the first-team coincided with a transfer ban and his Derby County manager unexpectedly being given the top job at the Bridge.
For any young player eyeing a breakthrough, those are pretty favourable external factors to use to your advantage.
Bate will feature extensively at under-23 level this season and may even sneak a Leeds United first-team debut depending on his progress.
He was named by Chief Executive Angus Kinnear in his pre-match programme notes ahead of the Whites’ first home game of the season against Everton, as one of the under-23s who could viably push for a first-team place.
Hopes are high and based on the evidence of the past few years, with Bate repeatedly playing above his age bracket, there is good reason for those expectations to be where they currently are.
Back in late July, flanked by proud family members at Leeds’ contract-presentation-photo-opportunity table, Bate took a risk.
Bridging the gap between under-23 and senior football is one which not all players make, certainly not at Premier League level.
At least with Leeds, he will be given the opportunity to make good on the investment he’s made in himself.