Friday night’s loss by Leeds United to Middlesbrough laid bare what most fans have know in their hearts for weeks now: Leeds will not make the promotion playoffs. After last year’s near miss, it’s a bitter pill to swallow that the promotion push is over in early March. But at least now, Leeds have an opportunity to see what the younger players at the club can do on the big stage.
We’ve all heard about the promise and quality of the U23s and some of the younger players at the club. From Oriol Rey, Tom Pearce, Jack Clarke, and Liam Kitching, the younger players have been hyped up to be future stars in the making. So why not see what the kids can bring to the first team now?
Result 5-0, goals from Ryan Edmondson (3), Jack Clarke and Alfie McCalmont securing Leeds United's Under 18's first win of tournament against Shandong Luneng, a lot of rising talents in the LUFC academy right now . #LUFC #MOT— The LUFC Ultimate (@TheLUFCUltimate) February 20, 2018
In an interview with Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani said that he envisioned four to six players coming into the first team next year from the youth ranks and he also said that, “I wish to have another Kalvin Phillips, another Ronaldo (Vieira) coming up to the first-team squad. That’s what I wish every year, one or two players from the Under-23s or the Under-18s.”
Paul Heckingbottom is known for his efforts at bringing along many young players at Barnsley FC. Ryan Kent, the Liverpool starlet currently on loan at Bristol City, had nothing but positive things to say about Heckingbottom and the development he received under the current Leeds boss. Additionally, Barnsley were in the top half of the table last season under Heckingbottom before Conor Hourihane, James Bree, and Sam Winnall all left the club in the January transfer window. Barnsley had also lost young defender Alfie Mawson to Swansea City in the summer transfer window that same season. His record with developing and bringing up youth players into the first team was one of the reasons that he was chosen for his role at Leeds.
So which players are ready for the first team? Heckingbottom has an opportunity with 11 games left in the season to see who will be able to step and play a part in his plans for next year. Madger Gomes, the youth team winger that was signed from Liverpool, played with the first team during preseason, and was impressive in the early League Cup match against Newport County. Defender Paudie O’Connor also spent time with the first team during preseason, and he’s got first-team experience in the Republic of Ireland’s Premier Division.
Other than those two, midfielder Oriol Rey is highly regarded and Olivier Sarkic, the Grimbsy born former Benfica striker, might be able to make the leap to the first team as well. Striker Jack Clarke signed his first professional contract earlier this season, and winger Tom Pearce joined Clarke and defender Liam Kitching on the bench against Newport County in the FA Cup. Kitching has already gone out on loan to Harrogate Town, but Clarke and Pearce might make an appearance. Left back Tyler Denton has already made his senior Leeds debut, and he’s back from his loan at Port Vale.
So will any of these players make an appearance or two down the stretch for Leeds? It would be a good idea to integrate at least one or two of them into the team every week going forward. The owner wants between four and six former youth players to be in the squad next season, and now is the perfect time to figure out which one of these players can make the leap and play a part in next year’s campaign.