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The six Leeds United players over 30 and the under-23s in line to succeed them

The six Leeds United players over 30 and the under-23s in line to succeed them.

Leeds United v Southampton - Premier League
Luke Ayling and Rodrigo are two of the most senior players at the club (31).
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The last year saw four first-team players - Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper and Adam Forshaw - join the over-30 club with Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo. And while five of those six have been prominent members of the first-team set-up, with all but Cooper making over 20 league appearances, a club looking to climb the table must start planning to succeed them.

Fortunately, Leeds have been doing that for a couple of years through their youth recruitment. The majority of Victor Orta’s recent incomings have been at the under-23 level as the club look to embed a philosophy of youth development over lavish spending - an ethos backed by Marsch and his record of promoting academy players through the Red Bull system.

All six of the aforementioned players will likely remain at the club for at least another season, but their influence - at least on the pitch - could lessen as their respective under-23 replacements grow.

Below are all six of Leeds United’s over-30s and the under-23s to succeed them.

Mateusz Klich (31) → Stuart McKinstry (19)

There was plenty of Championship interest for Stuart McKinstry in January, but Marcelo Bielsa’s reluctance to let him leave on loan was a testament to how highly regarded the 19-year-old is at Elland Road.

The teenager joined Leeds’ academy set up in 2019 from Motherwell - originally as a winger - and has impressed at the under-23 level for his work rate, his adaptability and his quality in possession.

That should make him an ideal replacement for someone in the mould of Mateusz Klich. And that seems to be how Leeds want to utilise him, having deployed him often in the box-to-box midfield role associated with his Polish predecessor.

McKinstry’s energetic in-to-out runs - bombing beyond his teammates between centre-back and full-back - are typical of Klich and have proved effective for the under-23s, with the Scot currently on one goal and three assists in 17 appearances this campaign.

Rodrigo (31) → Sam Greenwood (20)

Since signing for Leeds in 2020, Sam Greenwood has played a pivotal role in the success of Mark Jackson’s under-23s. And with ‘Jacko’ now promoted into the first-team setup, Greenwood should expect his minutes to increase.

The 20-year-old blossomed as part of a healthily-competitive attacking duo with Joe Gelhardt, racking up 12 goals in 18 games last season and eight goals plus five assists in 16 games so far this season.

And the former Arsenal man should be the perfect successor for Rodrigo’s ‘second-striker’ role, dropping into central spaces and creating openings for those around him as well as making the deep runs to stretch unbalanced defences.

There’s also that absolute wand of a right foot, of course.

Stuart Dallas (30) → Jamie Shackleton (22)

It’s hard to believe that Jamie Shackleton is still only 22-years-old, and his appearance on the list is almost an anomaly - in that he has already made 67 appearances since his 2018 debut - but Marcelo Bielsa’s use of him fit the Dallas mould perfectly.

The Argentine seemed to lack the faith in Shackleton to play in central midfield, but he was always impressive in there and found unexpected strength at right-back.

But he has almost been a victim of his own versatility, performing well when called upon all over the pitch without ever excelling to the point of taking over from either Ayling or Dallas.

Under Marsch, though, Shackleton’s energy in the press could prove vital in hunting down defences and pouncing when they are out of shape, while his sharpness on the turn and close control should give him the edge in a tight central area.

Luke Ayling (30) → Cody Drameh (20)

Cody Drameh is the only player on this list not currently at Leeds. Signed from Fulham for just £1million with a clear path to succeed Ayling, the 20-year-old forced a loan move to Cardiff City in January due to a lack of first-team action and it seemed as though his time in West Yorkshire was over.

The arrival of Marsch, however, should provide Drameh with the assurance of opportunities to deputise - and then take over from - Ayling in the right-back position.

And the youngster’s performances in Wales should equally provide promise for Marsch. Since joining Cardiff, the former Fulham academy product has registered three assists and developed into one of the most dangerous full-backs in the league – winning the FLW Fans Championship Player of The Month for March.

What makes Drameh stand out though - and this may seem odd, given the position - is his defending. For such a young and attack-minded full-back he is excellent in wide one-v-one situations, pairing astute judgement with the physical power to match most wingers.

Liam Cooper (30) → Charlie Cresswell (19)

The most natural progression of the lot. Charlie Cresswell has risen through the club’s youth ranks with relative ease, captaining the under-23s right up until his promotion into the first-team this season.

He made his Premier League debut in a tight 2–1 defeat at home to West Ham, starting alongside Cooper and putting in a brilliant display against one of the toughest strikers in the league, Michael Antonio.

The teenager possesses all the qualities that make his predecessor so important - physicality, organisation, leadership qualities - and has shown in his short time in the first-team setup a maturity that is years beyond his young age.

Cresswell also has the modern-day skillset to operate in a high-line, using his strength to beat attackers to the ball before punching line-breaking passes through the centre of the pitch - something Marsch will be looking for in Cooper’s eventual successor.

Adam Forshaw (30) → Lewis Bate (19)

Leeds moved rapidly to take Lewis Bate from Chelsea’s academy after the midfielder announced he would leave Stamford Bridge in search of a pathway to first-team football - for a bargain price of £1.2million. But the return to fitness and brilliant performances of Forshaw have halted the 19-year-old’s hopes somewhat.

But that is not to say that Bate’s emergence into the first team isn’t imminent. He was picked ahead of Jack Jenkins to start in the FA Cup defeat at West Ham and has been hugely impressive in midfield for the under-23s - for the most part under Marsch’s new assistant, Mark Jackson.

The midfield qualities of Bate should blend perfectly into a Marsch double-pivot for years to come. The teenager has a fantastic engine as well as a truly outstanding range of passing. What the American coach will love about Bate is his ability to punch accurate passes through the defensive lines - a skill perfect for Marsch’s rapid, vertical attacking philosophy.

It may take some time for a young Bate to adapt to the speed of pressure in the Premier League, but that will have to come with minutes - there’s a reason Chelsea fans were gutted to see him go.