By Steve Barras
In a season that is starting to peter out with phrases like “Nothing to play for” and “Not going up, not going down” being used more and more as the 2nd of May approaches we tend to stop and take stock of the ‘up’s and down’s’ the previous months have given us.
I am, as ever, an eternal optimist. A conversation took place in the car on the M1 northbound before the win over Millwall, there were only two of us in the car on that occasion and we were split 50/50 as two people can easily be on the pessimism and optimism scale. I, as the optimistic Leeds fan, was saying how I would always think that we were going to gain promotion until it is mathematically impossible to do so whilst my companion took the role of the pessimistic Leeds fan and said the complete opposite, we were going to get relegated unless we mathematically secured survival.
I tell you this anecdote as a way of proving how different that we, as fans, view the same situation’s and as the eternal optimist I am going to ignore the Massimo Cellino element for this piece and concentrate on what is actually good about our club at the moment. That is not to say that I am burying my head in the sand and trusting that everything will turn out ok but in my opinion the circus is getting a lot of inches whilst our academy gets a quick mention at the back end of every programme.
Without the academy this season we would all be concentrating on the improved form of Rudy Austin and Luke Murphy, not to mention Scott Wootton who even with his own improved form is still a liability at right back. The emergence this season of Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor as first team regulars has added that little bit more optimism that sees us looking at next season with something a little more than blind faith. Twin their breakthroughs with the continued progression of Alex Mowatt and Sam Byram and you start to wonder if this is the start of another golden era at Elland Road and Thorp Arch. The last golden era, arguably 1998-2003, coincided with the emergence of home-grown talents such as Jonathan Woodgate, Ian Harte, Paul Robinson and Alan Smith who helped the club into the upper echelons of Premier League and European football.
The best thing about it is that these youngsters are all Yorkshiremen/boys (We can forgive Byram for being born in Essex right?) and we have more on the way. Kalvin Phillips and Lewis Walters are on the fringes and before the latter’s injury away at Mansfield he was being regarded as a better player than Lewis Cook. Exciting times at Thorp Arch and with Neil Redfearn in charge of the senior side then we can look forward to more players coming through the ranks. He has said that we have excellent prospects in the u21/u18 teams but he is most excited about the players coming through at u15/u16 level and to have a team mostly comprised of home-grown talent would be brilliant. I’ve always wondered what a league system would look like if you could only play players that were trained and nurtured at your own academy, imagine the strength in depth of the national side if teams were forced to play English players week in, week out. I’m in danger of being side-tracked but I have one little thing to moan about that has no connection to Leeds, well a small connection. Micah Richards did play in our youth system as a child, as a striker. A midweek Europa League match between Fiorentina and Tottenham, there was one Englishman on the field of play at the start of the match and Richards played for the Italians, for me that's disgusting.
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