For years, even when the club was in the doldrums, Leeds United fans got used to having a strong academy. Various young stars have come through at Thorp Arch, albeit not as many into the first-team as would have been hoped. Instead, many were sold as Leeds faced a challenging time with regards to finance. Today, though, the club is in a position whereby its young talent sticks around to get a game and improve. Kalvin Phillips is the local poster boy, but there are several examples under Marcelo Bielsa.
And it is not only the players who are picking up new tricks – it is the coaches, as well. A recent interview with Mark Jackson in the Yorkshire Evening Post was an illuminating insight into how things are working behind the scenes at the club.
Given the emphasis on player and youth development in the Bielsa era, Leeds fans should not be surprised by the improvement in youth coaching. Jackson has long been held up as a fine example of what can be done with the right coaching staff, with his influence clear to see on a number of young players in the team. However, the U23s coach has admitted that he has a fantastic job at the club, and that he has learned a great deal from Bielsa himself.
Promotion in the Premier League 2 was a big achievement, and this year the U23s have found the transition a lot harder to deal with. Much like the first team who were caught cold in the top-flight at times in the first season, Leeds U23s have endured an up and down campaign full of learning moments so far.
Jackson, though, is certain that it is something that will help the club in the long-term.
What did Mark Jackson say about his own development?
Speaking to the YEP, Jackson provided an interesting insight into how the team is developing. Given that several of the stars of the U23s have ended up in the first-team due to injuries, Jackson has rarely had a full first-team to pick from. Speaking about that, he mentioned: “Ultimately, for me, it’s how many players you can prepare for the manager to utilise and impact his team in a positive way,
“We have to understand what our priorities are, to support the first team. That’s first priority. Winning is important. The manager says winning is a part of them growing as individuals, so it has a part to play. But the manager also talked about the game against Leicester being a beautiful game and I think he holds how a team performs in enormous value.”
Speaking about the recent defeats and how things can improve, Jackson added: “But what I’m getting better at is understanding it’s a process. After Manchester United on Saturday I went into the changing rooms and asked the players ‘did you leave everything out on the pitch?’ They said yes and I agreed. I can accept that, as long as the players are applying themselves in the way we’ve asked them to. Are they looking like a Leeds player? Are they looking like a Leeds team? If that happens, there’s an acceptance. But we have to learn from defeats.”
For Leeds fans, then, knowing that the youth team is being built in the same image, ideas, and philosophy of the first team is surely a positive. After so many years of uncertainty, even the youth teams are beginning to represent what Leeds stands for as a club.