Leeds United have enjoyed a rapid growth in stature over the last two years, sealing promotion to the Premier League with a title-winning Championship campaign and then establishing themselves in the top flight.
Although the ascent has been special for those who hold Leeds close to their heart, young players attempting to rise through the ranks have been presented with greater obstacles than their academy predecessors.
In order to break into the first-team at Elland Road now, the rate at which a young player develops must match the speed at which the club is growing or they risk being left behind.
This already appears to be the case for several Leeds players who, although talented, do not seem capable of cutting it in the Premier League and look to be victims of their club’s success.
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Young centre-back Olly Casey was called upon by Marcelo Bielsa in the Championship but has since sealed a permanent move to Blackpool and reports have suggested Bryce Hosannah, Robbie Gotts and Jordan Stevens could follow.
The aforementioned trio were integral to an impressive under-23s side under former boss Carlos Corberan but loan moves to the EFL failed to thrust them into Bielsa’s plans.
Niall Huggins was handed a Premier League debut as recently as February 2021 but has already seemingly slipped down the pecking order, being absent from all pre-season friendlies amid links with a move to Championship side Blackburn Rovers.
The speed at which Huggins appears to have fallen out of favour sends a harsh reminder to young players of how difficult it is to break into the team of a club on the rise.
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In recent years, players who were arguably inferior to the likes of Gotts and Huggins have enjoyed runs in the first-team due to the struggles of the senior side but now, there is no requirement for the first-team to be rescued by an army of hungry youngsters.
In some ways, the pathway to the first-team has never been clearer under Bielsa but in other ways, it features more roadblocks than ever before.
The Argentine integrates young prospects in training, bringing the under-23 side closer to the first-team than any other Leeds manager has done before.
However, it was much easier to deputise for or replace Championship-standard players than it is to stand in or leapfrog senior internationals and stars signed for hefty fees.
The opportunity to impress is there but impressing has arguably never been harder to do. Leeds supporters can, however, take solace in knowing that when a player does make the step up and becomes a regular, they are most likely something special.
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