In our weekly Scout feature, we take a deep dive into an emerging player on track to become a footballing superstar before our very eyes.
This week’s edition focuses on Leeds forward Sam Greenwood, a player Arsenal fans will soon come to regret losing.
Greenwood, 18, was snapped up from Arsenal in the summer of 2020 for a fee of £1.5m potentially rising to £3m.
Though centre-forward is his primary position, a recent positional shift to attacking midfield has set pulses racing. A comparison with legendary Liverpool ace Steven Gerrard has even been drawn.
Greenwood’s six goals in eight matches in Division Two of the Premier League 2 this season have catapulted Leeds to the summit of the table.
His lethal link-up with fellow Scout alumni Joe Gelhardt has caused havoc for defences. As a result, the pair have become regulars in England’s youth ranks.
Why the hype?
Marcelo Bielsa declared in the Autumn that as many as “50 percent” of the current crop of Under-23s could make the first-team grade.
Greenwood’s attributes make him a prime candidate to be a frontrunner in that transition.
Indeed, such has been his progress that he’s being tipped to debut for the club in this weekend’s FA Cup third-round tie at Crawley.
He possesses a deadly set piece and strikes the ball with tremendous whip, dip and velocity. No shrinking violet, he has showcased his confidence and self-belief by becoming a regular penalty taker both domestically and internationally.
Like Son-Heung-min or Santi Cazorla, Greenwood is a genuinely two-footed player. Even the game’s elite can be contained if a defender sells out to limit shooting opportunities on their stronger side. Show Greenwood one specific way and he’ll gladly take the invitation and rifle one home.
He is elusive when seemingly boxed into a corner. A stepover here and a misdirection there and before you know it he’s away. But what will stand him in the greatest stead is his tenacity out of possession.
His willingness to press and desire to get a foot in will bring a smile to Bielsa’s face.
Reminds you of a young…?
His proficiency from the dead ball reminds us of Southampton captain James-Ward Prowse.
The England midfielder recently drew high praise from Pep Guardiola, who described him as “the best free-kick taker I have seen in my life.”
The Saint has perfected his craft. But despite his tender age, Greenwood is already far down the path to matching Ward-Prowse.
His centre-forward play and clinical ball striking abilities were previously compared to Robin van Persie. Both are excellent technicians in the ball striking department, but Greenwood’s recent positional shift to number eight has brought a fresh outlook.
Comparisons to Steven Gerrard are decidedly early, despite teammate Gelhardt’s inference.
But in a recent Under-23s clash with Aston Villa, Greenwood raised eyebrows by comfortably outplaying midfield partner and club talisman Pablo Hernandez.
It was just his second Leeds outing in a deeper role, but it certainly won’t be his last.
Motivation is rarely as high as when matching up against a former club.
In late-September, Greenwood showcased his full range of abilities when notching an impressive hattrick against boyhood side Sunderland.
A trademark unstoppable free-kick with his right-foot and two sharp open-play finishes with his left ensured the PL 2 Player of the Month award was decisively secured.
📰 #LUFC U23s striker Sam Greenwood has been named the PL2 Player of the Month for September
— Leeds United (@LUFC) October 12, 2020
The Experts’ View
To make it in this current Leeds team, a player must have a tremendous work ethic and elite stamina levels. Talent alone will not make the grade with Bielsa.
Under-23s coach – Mark Jackson – recently spoke of how quickly summer acquisitions Greenwood and Gelhardt have adapted to the modern day Leeds way (via HITC).
“What I really like and what really stands out is their work ethic. The will to work and want to play with an intensity which is great for our club and the way we play. It’s really good and exciting pair to work with.”
Regarding the viability of Greenwood’s positional change becoming permanent, Bielsa said in December (via Leeds Live): “His main position is as a centre forward. Normally he plays in conjunction with [Joe] Gelhardt in the team.
“Gelhardt is a player that when he is close to the box is very dangerous and Greenwood is a player who has a lot of capacity to arrive into the free spaces.
“They can play either with Gelhardt in front and Greenwood behind or the other way round.”
The Athletic’s Leeds writer Phil Hay also tipped Greenwood as his “breakthrough star for 2021”.
Has been linked with?
While with the Gunners, Greenwood emerged as a shock target for Serie A powerhouses Juventus and AC Milan.
A stay on these shores ultimately materialised with his move back up north to Leeds. But according to Yorkshire Live, several Championship clubs have reportedly explored the opportunity of taking him on loan in the current window.
Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff and promotion chasers Bournemouth are all believed to be interested parties.
Greenwood’s development at Thorp Arch is not only on a steep trajectory, but is progressing at a rapid rate.
While his debut could yet come at the weekend, it would not be a shock to see him take that chance with both hands. Greenwood is very much one for the future, but also one for the here and now…
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