Leeds United’s academy system is widely regarded as one of the best in English football and the latest talent to emerge at the club, namely Jack Clarke, serves as a telling reminder that the Whites are still able to produce talent of esteemed quality.
Marcelo Bielsa’s bizarre yet charismatic personality traits and footballing philosophy have been analysed with deep intent by the footballing world this season. Some of his ideas are not quite clear cut, but his explicit desire to internally promote from within and trust in the strongest players to emerge from the youth ranks is undisputed.
Leeds United’s injury problems have forced him to consult the development squad and utilise a handful of talents, one of whom has caught the eye of Premier League clubs. According to a handful of reports in recent weeks, 18-year-old Clarke has emerged as a transfer target for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton (as per Sky Sports).
Interest from top-flight clubs is a natural byproduct of Clarke’s performances so far this season, which have been electric and refreshing. Every so often a player comes along who forces supporters to subconsciously turn their attention levels up a notch, eagerly anticipating the unpredictable talent to conjure something from nothing.
Clarke is a player who is firmly in that bracket, and there are already similarities beginning to emerge between the exciting teenager and a former Leeds player who used to terrorise full-backs in English football, Max Gradel.
The Ivory Coast international, who has been capped 61 times by his country, was unpredictable but almost completely unplayable on his day during his formative years. Blistering pace was at the core of his game and his ability to balance speed with a dazzling style of dribbling regularly mesmerised the supporters.
Two thoroughly productive and entertaining years in Yorkshire eventually saw him attract sufficient interest from France to force Leeds’ hand in the transfer market, with a move to Saint Etienne bringing his short but sweet stint to an end following a fine season in which he was awarded the club’s player of the year award.
Leeds are yet to really witness a player quite like Gradel tearing down the touchline and scoring goals with devastating regularity, but the manner in which Clarke has adapted to life in senior football suggests Bielsa has set the wheels in motion for the next Gradel-esque figure to emerge at Leeds.
Playing with an exuberance and confidence which you would hope to see from a flair player, Clarke has consistently wowed supporters with his ability to make an impact from the bench this season, and his recent performance from the outset against Derby County proved that he is on the cusp of establishing himself as a first-team regular.
Clarke’s endeavours to impress on the training ground throughout his youth development have obviously got him into the position he finds himself in, but he owes a huge debt to Bielsa for trusting him in the senior squad this season.
With speed, direct dribbling and a willingness to take risks at the heart of his game, the similarities between Clarke and the former Leeds man Gradel are there for all to see. The question is: can the rising star go on to match an impressive record of 25 goals and 13 assists from 82 appearances and win individual accolades in the process?
Well, if the early glimpses into his ability are anything to go by, he will surely go on to command a heroic reputation on the terraces at Elland Road, regardless of how his statistical return compares with Gradel.
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