The academy was on its knees this time last year. You need only read the wonderful interview between Phil Hay and Adam Underwood about the academy and its current state, and where it has come from under Andrea Radrizzani.
The Italian owner needs to improve drastically on the first-team front, he will know that and we certainly know that. However I am a firm believer in looking at things individually and giving credit where it is due, not just the overall picture. Victor Orta hasn’t impressed with his first-team signings either, but what he’s done in less than a year in the academy deserves a lot of credit. The season didn’t start great for the development side as foreign players settled into life at Leeds and the local players adapted to a new way of doing things, but as everyone has got into their stride we have proved that there aren’t going to be many teams that beat us at development level in our current group, a fourth straight win yesterday meant we are up to third in the standings. Here are five reasons that things are going so well.
1 – Good Level Of Investment
Andrea Radrizzani thought he could get away with cutting corners with the first-team, he admits he’s made mistakes and he knows they need to be rectified. Will he be successful in that sense? Who knows, the summer will tell us but there is now pressure in that area and the fans have every right to be pissed off with what’s happened on the pitch with the first-team this season. However he has spent more money on the academy so far than any owner has in a long time and it’s beginning to show after just seven months. It needs to continue but the foundations are laid and it’s now a case of looking to improve where we can.
He’s spent big money on players for that age group which I will get onto later in the article, and the standard of player has risen dramatically. Underwood pointed out that we had just eleven players in the under 23’s last season, under 18’s were being forced to play when they shouldn’t have been to fill the numbers and the standard of the 11 weren’t good, not many are now playing. The money now needs to keep going in as we try to build on what we already have.
2 – Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas
There is little doubt that the academy staff who have stayed at Leeds United are worth their weight in gold but we need to implement new ideas and fresh faces and that is what we have done. Victor Orta is one, but you look more at the coaching ability of Carlos Corberan who was specifically brought in to blend local and foreign talent and get them playing with a Leeds United “identity” that we can move forward with. It took him a while, I remember watching one of his first games in charge over at Tadcaster Albion and he was struggling to get his messages to the players for a few reasons. They hadn’t been at it long, some of the players weren’t good enough and there was a clear communication issue. All of these have now been resolved and anyone who has been watching the under 23’s or indeed the under 18’s will see we are playing some very good football and the communication isn’t a problem, on top of that the new players are certainly good enough.
Local And UK Scouting And Investment
Above is a picture of Ryan Edmondson, one of the hottest properties inside the Leeds United academy. The youngster was picked up from York City’s first-team and put into the under 18’s to help his development and it was a wonderful piece of business by the club. Edmondson bagged a hat-trick for the reserves during the week and is expected to progress into a very good player. Instead of rushing players they are now being put into the correct age group and given time to develop, the under 18’s are smashing their league and have already one a tournament at the Aspire Academy.
He isn’t the only one who has arrived from the UK shores. Jordan Stevens made his debut yesterday and the young midfielder has high hopes, another player plucked from a first-team in Forest Green and a fee in the region of £500k, so a decent fee for a player so young. Striker Sam Dalby has scored three goals this week and was also signed from first-team football, another fee in the region of half a million. These players now have a chance to progress and they need only look at Tom Pearce who made his debut in the Yorkshire Derby last weekend and is expected to be involved between now and the end of the season.
Foreign Scouting And Investment
This is probably the most impressive area that has improved this season and it’s down to the scouting system put in place and the level of investment. Victor Orta has got this right, and it’s a good job because the scouting for the first-team hasn’t been good enough. Saying that, did he have the right level of investment to sign players for the first-team? Debateable.
We have heard about Orta and his contact book and he certainly used it during the summer recruiting young players from abroad. Three arrived from Barcelona, Kun is now playing for the under 18’s, the Bulgarian striker has huge potential and he was joined by Adrian Balboa and Oriol Rey. All are developing at different paces, Kun was dropped into the 18’s and is now playing well, Balboa has struggled slightly but Oriol Rey is one of the closest to reaching for a first-team call. A talented central midfielder who has the touch and vision of a player you want running your midfield.
Ouasama Siddiki (Real Madrid), Oliver Sarkic (Benfica), Hugo Diaz (Huesca), Alex Machuca (Real Vallecano), Aapo Halme (Helsinki), Pascal Struijk (Ajax) have also signed with the club and most are making an impact. This sort of recruitment will take the academy to the next level but it hasn’t hampered the development of the local and English players, it’s kicked them on, just look at Tom Pearce and Jack Clarke. The thing is, I want more players at this level, from home and abroad and it excites me thinking of these players in a few years time.