Leeds United’s flourishing under-23 side is this season competing against some of the best reserve teams in the country.
Last season’s promotion to the top tier of under-23 football means the Whites will have the opportunity to test themselves against some of the best academy setups English football has to offer.
While the number of high-potential players Leeds have produced themselves in recent seasons is slim, Thorp Arch has taken on something of a new role in the past 12 months.
Leeds United’s under-23 side is a rather well-equipped finishing school for British football’s best and brightest at present.
Sean McGurk and Joe Gelhardt joined from Wigan Athletic one year apart, Sam Greenwood swapped Arsenal and the nation’s capital for Leeds and West Yorkshire, while Cody Drameh made a similar leap of faith, uprooting after coming through at Fulham.
Last season Gelhardt, Greenwood and Drameh were some of the most reliable and relied upon figures within Mark Jackson’s under-23 squad.
Understandably, this has led to the question from supporters: when will they be seen in the first-team setup?
The answer is not at all simple; even Marcelo Bielsa had difficulty articulating when that eventuality may arise, given the multitude of factors that go into an under-23 player making the transition from junior to senior football.
What he did transmit though, was a knowledge of when a youth player has reached their apex in under-23 football.
The Argentine stated in his pre-Everton press conference that there are telltale signs among other members of his first-team squad that indicate when a younger player is deemed ready to make the step up.
“The important thing is they overcome the players in the same position as them,” Bielsa said.
“There’s something that’s very representative when a young player shines for real, the first ones to perceive their possibilities is the group in the first-team when they see that there is a player who’s good for real.
“It’s not that they say it, you notice that when this happens, they want that player next to them, not behind them. I have lived this many times.
“When a young player shines, it is the players with experience who notice it immediately. Even if they don’t say it, they make you notice it,” he reiterated.
Based on Bielsa’s career-long musings, it seems as though the likes of Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling, Patrick Bamford, Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Klich and co will be vital in indirectly handing the likes of Joe Gelhardt a senior debut.
Safe to say, he has already impressed members of the first-team squad. Last season, 17-goal striker Bamford compared Gelhardt to a young Wayne Rooney.
He is one of the few standout under-23s yet to make his senior bow in a Leeds United shirt – something which has perplexed Leeds fans after his 11 goals last season, and considerable influence in their title triumph.
Sam Greenwood, Charlie Cresswell, Jack Jenkins and Niall Huggins all made debuts last term in cup competitions.
It may well be the case that Gelhardt has already proven his first-team candidacy, though and will be afforded a debut in next week’s cup clash with Crewe Alexandra.
The Whites take on the League One outfit at Elland Road in the Second Round of the League Cup, looking to better last season’s record which saw them bow out at that stage to a third tier Hull City side.
Bielsa’s inference is that his senior players will hardly pull him to one side and endorse young players in private conversations. Rather, they will seek to be involved alongside them in training, work closely with them like any other first-team player and crucially trust them on the pitch during training games.
That could be true of a number of under-23s this season, young right-back Cody Drameh included.
Given the tight schedules both the under-23s and first-team face next week, it will be interesting to see who features in the League Cup.
Mark Jackson’s youngsters have a PL 2 Division 1 fixture on Monday 23rd August, a mere 24 hours before the senior team face Crewe in the cup.
Typically, Marcelo Bielsa has blooded a number of young players in his cup XIs, therefore if a few big names are omitted from the PL2 teamsheet on Monday afternoon, it may be indicative of some involvement the following evening.