By Richard Parks
Leeds United academy chief Adam Underwood has hailed Oriel Rey and Callum Nicell as two rising stars who can graduate to the first team.
United’s Under-23s have Under-18s have been transformed following a wave of pan-Europe investment since Andrea Radrizzani took over as owner last May.
Targeted recruitment has brought a more cosmopolitan feel and increased standards, with the Under-23s securing a fourth consecutive win with Friday’s 3-0 triumph against Cardiff.
Underwood namechecked central midfielders Rey, 19, and Nicell, 18, as two young players who can make the step up from the youth team to the senior side.
“Look at it this way – we’ve got Oriel, who’s 19 years old. He’s come up through Barcelona’s academy. He’s got lots of great qualities and he’s quite English in the way he plays but he has that technical class which comes from being in an academy like Barcelona’s,” Underwood told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“He’s playing next to Callum Nicell from Doncaster, a lad who’s been with us all his playing career. We’re giving Callum the opportunity to play with someone like Oriel in the centre of midfield. What a tremendous platform that is to develop from.
“Our vision is to have players ready to transition all over the pitch. Once upon a time it was about the one or the two. What we want to be now is an academy which, wherever there’s a need in the first team, we’re able to meet it, be that a central midfielder, a striker, a goalkeeper. We can meet the need because we’ve got the quality.”
Football Insider verdict:
With Leeds play-off bid in tatters, attention has turned to the young players at the club who can make the step up from youth to senior football. Paul Heckingbottom has demonstrated he is not afraid of promoting youngsters to replace under-performing first teamers, with goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell and left-back Tom Pearce both handed senior starts in recent week and acquitting themselves well. United fans will be hugely encouraged that the investment in the stars of tomorrow is starting to bear fruit, and would love for more young guns to establish themselves in the first team in the coming years.
In other Leeds United news, 13 players are fighting for their jobs as behind-the-scenes planned laid for huge cull.