The mood at Leeds United right now can be described as anything but hopeful.
Last season the club approached the final weekend of the campaign with their Premier League survival out of their own hands. Miraculously enough, they maintained their top-flight status with a madcap win at Brentford while Burnley failed to do what was required against Newcastle.
There is very little optimism that lightning can strike twice on Sunday when Leeds host Tottenham. The survival odds are 12/1 to stay up, while data firm FiveThirtyEight believe Leeds are 96% likely to go down. Gulp.
From the unbridled joy to getting promoted with Marcelo Bielsa to the abject misery of relegation with Big Sam, things are looking bleak at Elland Road. So we wouldn’t begrudge any fan from taking any crumb of optimism they can find.
May we suggest looking 7000 miles away? 19-year-old Darko Gyabi has just scored an absolute peach for the Young Lions at the Under-20 World Cup out in Argentina.
The teenager demonstrated exceptional footwork to dart into the box and open the space to shoot, booking England’s place in the next round in the closing stages of a 3-2 victory over Uruguay.
Cynics might suggest that does a fat lot of good for Sam Allardyce’s first team this weekend. They might even question whether he might’ve been more useful back in Leeds, given there are gaping holes that need plugging in midfield.
There are plenty of talented youngsters across European football that have been denied a chance to represent their country in a proper tournament, made to sit around on the periphery of their clubs as they play out end-of-season dead rubbers.
You can certainly make the case that Gyabi might have been useful for Leeds amid their struggles this season. But it’s too little too late now. Quite rightly, Gyabi has not been made to wallow around in a mess he’s had nothing to do with, and instead he’s away enjoying the most exciting experience of his fledgling career to date.
England’s Under-20s won the World Cup back in 2017. From that team, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Fikayo Tomori and Dominic Solanke have gone on to establish themselves towards the top level of the men’s game. Gyabi, with the promising start he’s made, can certainly have ambitions of following in their footsteps.
Darko Gyabi vs. Uruguay U20s:
90 mins played
79% pass accuracy
30/38 successful passes
6 duels won
2 successful take-ons
2 tackles won
2 times fouled
1 shot on-target
1 blocked shot
His first England U20s goal was a sublime… pic.twitter.com/LsVg06HFZV
— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) May 25, 2023
Former Leeds sporting director Victor Orta had a decidedly mixed record with recruitment, particularly in light of the club’s struggles this season, but one area where Orta’s record stands up is the investment in youth.
The likes of Pascal Struijk and Illan Meslier arrived as relatively unknown teenagers and have since developed into major assets. Last season Sam Greenwood and Joe Gelhardt made vital contributions as Leeds narrowly avoided the drop.
There’s hope that Under-21s starlets Sonny Perkins, Mateo Joseph and Gyabi – the outstanding trio that shone as the youth team achieved promotion from the second tier of the Premier League 2 – will follow that trajectory into regular first-team contention. All were handed their senior Leeds debuts in the 2022-23 campaign but they’ve each shown enough promise to move beyond brief cameos.
If Leeds are back in the Championship next term, the second tier will provide a real opportunity for the club’s talented youngsters to break through and make an impact.
Having arrived from Man City as part of the deal that took Kalvin Phillips in the opposite direction, Gyabi has now had a full year of Under-21s football to adapt at Leeds. Next season could be the time he makes the step up and this World Cup may well be his youth-level swan song.
Leeds are in need of something to feel hopeful about. Gyabi represents just that.