The illustrious successes of the Leeds United Academy means that each year, the talent that graduates top of their class carries with them the expectations and hopes of becoming the city’s latest poster boy. Throw in a surname like Gray and that pressure ramps up. Tenfold.
Son of former striker Andy, grandson of ex-defender Frank and great nephew of club icon Eddie, 17-year-old Archie Gray is the latest edition of the renowned dynasty synonymous with the West Yorkshire side. Don Revie famously said of winger Eddie Gray that ‘when he plays on snow, he doesn’t leave any footprints’. Whilst only in the infancy of his fledgling career, teenager Archie has a long way to go before comparisons with Uncle Eddie can be made, but early indications are more than promising.
Rewind ourselves two seasons and Leeds, with Marcelo Bielsa still at the helm, faced injury after injury, relying on youth to make up the numbers more akin to weekday five-a-side leagues than top-flight football. For Archie Gray, fifteen at the time, weekends balanced GCSE revision with a place on a Premier League substitute bench; mock exams during the day, and 35-yard strikes against Manchester United U23s by night.
🤯 "You beauty! Archie Gray take a bow!" pic.twitter.com/MOOdhg9VdU
— Leeds United (@LUFC) March 15, 2022
A needless challenge by Aston Villa’s John McGinn hampered Gray’s pre-season preparations last term, so the midfielder had to bide his time before earning his highly anticipated professional debut over 12 months later. Before that however, Gray featured in every game for the Young Lions at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship over the summer, as England bowed out at the quarter-finals stage. He would then go on to grab his first international goal in a 4-2 World Cup play-off win against Switzerland. His time with the U17s is no doubt a fleeting visit, with the Leeds starlet likely to get a call up to an older age group next time round.
Buoyed by his exploits on the continent and now old enough to learn to drive, the England talent, assumingly to the dismay of his Scottish predecessors, became the youngest member of the bloodline to wear the white jersey of Leeds United. Younger brother Harry, a striker in the academy, might yet have his eye on that accolade in the years to come.
Slotting in next to the experienced Ethan Ampadu, Gray was a standout in the season’s curtain raiser against Cardiff City, using the ball cleverly and looking far from afraid of getting stuck in. For all the talent in the world, supposed wonderkids can look like boys trapped in a men’s game at such a tender age, yet Gray’s calmness with the ball and aggression without it is a key indicator of his potential.
Playing a slightly more advanced, box-to-box role than Welsh international Ampadu, Durham-born Gray has very good positional sense and understands when to drive with the ball and when to keep the passes ticking over. Not afraid to drop deep and looking to get involved, this awareness and the skillful nature entwined in his DNA helps the midfielder bypass opposition pressure and get his side on the front foot, as seen below.
— Alan (@AlanLUFC_) August 10, 2023
With an 81.3% pass accuracy and 88 ball carries in just 269 minutes of football at the time of writing, Gray has the tools manager Daniel Farke looks for in the middle of the park: dictating the tempo in possession and choosing the right moments to progress the play.
Despite having fewer defensive responsibilities than Ampadu, Gray has himself recorded an impressive 20 ball recoveries. As he develops both physically and mentally, the young midfielder has an opportunity to realise a frightening potential that has already seen the likes of Manchester City keeping a keen eye on his progress.
Archie Gray's debut season in the Championship:
269 minutes played
109/134 successful passes
88 ball carries
81.3% pass accuracy
51 successful own half passes
32 successful final third passes
20 ball recoveries
8 duels won
4 shot-creating actions
4 tackles won
— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) August 20, 2023
Injuries to players like Crysencio Summerville and Ian Poveda and off-field matters with Wilfried Gnonto and Luis Sinisterra has seen the attacking quartet alternate from game to game, but the midfield pairing behind in Farke’s 4-2-3-1 has remained unchanged.
As the club finally begin to bring in attacking reinforcements into the squad, the blossoming central duo of Ampadu and Gray will start to reap the rewards their unsung work to date deserves. The number ten position, in which quality has alluded them in since the departure of Pablo Hernández three seasons ago, is an area being targeted and the key to linking the play between a steadfast midfield and a plethora of attacking talent at the club.
The capture of Swansea City talisman Joël Piroe is a statement of intent from the new ownership as they look to get the club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. It is this proven quality that will allow emerging talents like Gray to flourish and develop from the prospects of tomorrow into the stars of today. After all, he does have the pedigree for the top.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Robbie Stephenson – PA Images
Championship stats collated from Leeds United’s opening three fixtures, courtesy of @LUFCDATA.