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Archie Gray: Why Leeds United have a future £100m player on their hands

Archie Gray

Archie Gray is impressing in many ways with Leeds United

Archie Gray is one of England’s most exciting prospects and has been performing at a ridiculously high level for a 17-year-old in his debut season mainly playing out of position.

After another mature performance this week against Chelsea in the FA Cup, Gray was man of the match despite his side losing 3-2. It was a deserved acknowledgement, though, as Gray covered every blade of grass.

Defending 1-v-1s, covering for players out of position, winning duels, carrying the ball with so much power and skill, being so press resistant, spraying some wonderful passes. For a player so young, Gray has a level of composure and maturity that’s so rare. Being vocal on the pitch, directing other players, combative in every action in every area of the pitch.

He’s seriously impressive and with such an impressive display against Premier League opposition, it’s clear he will be able to make the step up to the Premier League if Leeds get promoted this season.

Gray is a highly technical midfielder with so much quality on the ball and a calmness when he’s in possession. Being comfortable on his weaker left foot too makes him so press resistant.

He has a tight turn radius which allows him to keep really close control and confidently and coolly dribble out of tight areas. In fact there was a moment in the game on Wednesday night where he received the ball inside the box surrounded by two or three Chelsea players and just calmly turned past them all and escaped the press.

This level of composure allows Gray to receive the ball in deep areas and progress out of them. In today’s game where so many of the top teams have advanced pressing systems out of possession, being able to stay calm under pressure is a highly valuable skill. Gray just oozes class on the ball.

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One of the most impressive things about Gray is his all-round intelligence and understanding of the game. So much so that he can play in a variety of positions.

At youth level his main position was in any of the midfield roles, as a centre-midfielder, an attacking midfielder or a defensive midfielder. He even played for England youth teams as a right-back occasionally where he impressed.

Since he made the step up to the first team for Leeds, there’s been a lot of injuries in the Leeds squad, often coming in defence. So, for that reason, Gray has been played out of position at right-back but transitioned here seamlessly.

In fact, out of 37 games this season, Gray has started 22 of them as a right-back and in some of the remaining ones he moved there later in the game.

Archie Gray positions

Archie Gray’s positions this season

He’s shown he’s much more than your average right-back. He shines in 1-v-1s but of course it’s that on the ball ability which is his standout trait.

Gray often inverts from right-back to affect the game in central areas while in possession. His playmaking from deep is excellent.

He carries the ball forward from deep areas as previously mentioned but in addition, he’s progressive from his passing through the lines. So often Gray will play long balls over the top of the defence through to a winger running in behind. His intelligence and awareness of space and how to attack it helps him be so influential even from in defence.

In the Championship he’s come up against wingers such as Stephy Mavididi, Liam Millar, Karlan Grant, Nathan Broadhead, Morgan Rogers, Jamal Lowe, Borja Sainz and more. But against all he has shone and managed to hold his own to nullify their game.

Gray’s hunger to win the ball back is so impressive. Despite quite a slight, lanky frame he’s very physical and channels his aggression well into duels and winning tackles. This helps a lot in 1-vs-1 scenarios as he’s able to close the gap between the winger and stay tight to them to reduce their angles to be affective and get by him.

One of the reasons why he’s so good in 1-vs-1s is because of his tackling ability. Gray loves a slide tackle, which is obviously a big part of the Leeds DNA in him shining.

Playing as a full-back, the timing of slide tackles is so important because of playing against pacey wingers. But often Gray manages to execute these so well. He anticipates when he won’t be able to catch them in a pure sprint race and will go to ground to win the ball before they beat him.

His aggression to win the ball back is so typical of the prospects in the EFL. So many of them have the off the ball intensity and aggression that the Football League teaches you. You can’t survive in these leagues with only technical ability, the aggression, physicality and duel winning capacity is so important too.

So where is Gray’s best position? Well, playing as a right-back he’s developed the defensive side of his game along with his deep progression. Depending which footballing system he plays under in the future will determine where he plays.

Right-Back

If he’s at a team who play with inverted full-backs, Gray would suit this role perfectly. Often when you look at a lot of inverted full-backs, they are midfielders who’ve become defenders and have great on the ball ability but defensively aren’t the best. For example, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo and Rico Lewis. But with Gray, he brings a much more all-rounded profile and has fewer deficiencies in his game.

Centre-Midfield

Gray’s best position is as an all-phase centre-midfielder: someone who supports the defensive midfielder out of possession in the first phase, key in build-up play and transition of the second phase and is a playmaker and goal-scorer in the final third entering the box.

A lot of Gray’s technical abilities haven’t been able to shine as much as he’s not in the final third. But let’s not forget he was often the most advanced midfielder playing around the pockets at youth level. He showed quality shooting from distance, free-kick ability, weight of pass for through balls and spatial awareness.

This type of ability needs to be used in games and is the type that can win you games. Playing in the pockets and half-spaces are where Gray can affect the game so well. It’s as a midfielder where Gray will become a £100m player.

Defensive Midfield

Another position to consider is as a defensive midfielder. Single pivots are one of the hardest positions to learn and especially in a JDP (Juego De Posicion) system.  A high level of anticipation and reading of the game is needed along with ball-winning prowess and elite level of technical security.

It’s early days for Gray, but he has really good fundamentals to be developed into one of the best defensive midfielders in the game. He’s already so press resistant and takes care of the ball. He protects it, shields it well when carrying and isn’t reckless.

But at the same time, he isn’t safe. As a single pivot, the best don’t play the safe passes. Not just sideways and backwards passes. In fact, often the single pivot is the most progressive player in the team.

In the top five leagues, three of the top four that have played the most progressive passes this season are single pivots (Rodri, Toni Kroos and Declan Rice). Gray excelled in this area even at right-back.

As a ball-winner he’s very strong too. Gray could be moulded into a complete defensive midfielder similar to Rice who carries the ball from deep, is defensively solid and so secure on the ball.

Gray has come through the ranks at Leeds and his dad (Andy Gray), grandad (Frank Gray) and great uncle (Eddie Gray) were all former Leeds players and his younger brother Harry Gray is also at Leeds United’s academy and he too is playing for the England youth teams. You could definitely say it runs in the family!

Archie is a player you build around and it makes it even more special that he comes from family of former Leeds players. Leeds through and through.

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