Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford has “found his identity” and is a much more mature player than when he last played in the Premier League, according to Noel Whelan.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider correspondent Dylan Childs, the former Leeds striker and boyhood Whites fan claimed the 27-year-old is currently “one of the best number nines in the Premier League”.

The Englishman scored a sensational hat-trick against Aston Villa on Friday night as he took his goal tally for the season to six.

Prior to this campaign, Bamford had scored just once in 27 top-flight games across spells with Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Burnley and Middlesborough.

And Whelan insists it is time away from the Premier League that means he has come back stronger.

He told Football Insider“At the minute we’ve got one of the best number nines in the Premier League so I’m more than happy.

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“We’ve just got to keep Patrick Bamford fit and since last season he’s been so strong, so fit and hardly ever injured and almost an ever-present.

“It’s amazing what maturity does for a player. When you’ve experienced the Premier League and it’s not worked out and that’s what’s happened with Rodrigo, he didn’t so well at Bolton when he came over.

“Who would’ve thought that in years to come we would be going and buying him for £29million?

Leeds United striker

“It’s just what happens to players, sometimes you just need that experience, you need a couple of seasons to find your identity as a player.

“He’s come back bigger, better and stronger and has proven a few people wrong that he can play in the Premier League.”

In other news, Football Insider can REVEAL a Leeds United 24-year-old frozen out by Bielsa is in line to be binned.