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Leeds United have become synonymous with bringing through young talent over the past decade and that conveyor belt shows no signs of slowing down. Former academy players including Lewis Cook, Sam Byram, Kalvin Phillips, Tom Lees and Johnny Howson have all progressed through the system and played for the first team at some stage. Callum Nicell is the latest player to show significant signs of progression and the 18-year old Irishman looks set for a bright future at Elland Road.
Nicell was recently called up to the Ireland under-19 squad and featured in their 1-0 victory over Romania and many Leeds fans are understandably excited about his potential breakthrough into the senior squad. He scored an impressive brace for the under-18s as they thrashed Barnsley 5-2 back in November. Nicell provided an outlet down the right-hand side and troubled the Tykes defence throughout.
Leeds are still within striking distance of the play-off positions and have been priced at 16/1 in the Championship betting to finish in the top six positions. It's been a season of ups and downs and fans are hoping the appointment of Paul Heckingbottom will prompt an upturn in form. 'Hecky' is believed to be an admirer of Nicell and the former Barnsley boss certainly wasn't averse to blooding younger players during his time at Oakwell.
The central midfield area has been troublesome this campaign, although the arrival of Adam Forshaw has provided some much-needed stability and experience. Kalvin Phillips has been inconsistent and his confidence has been knocked following a number of error-ridden displays under previous boss Thomas Christiansen. He remains popular with fans but will need to ensure he cuts costly mistakes out of his game.
Garry Monk was also believed to be keeping a close eye on Nicell and even asked the talented teenager to travel with the match-day squad on a number of occasions.
New manager Paul Heckingbottom has overseen an initial improvement since arriving in West Yorkshire, guiding his side to impressive draws against Bristol City and Derby before securing his first victory against Brentford on February 24. He will be presented with the opportunity to shape and streamline his squad this summer and there are a number of players such as Pablo Hernandez who will be out-of-contract. Callum Nicell will be hoping he can play his way into the gaffer's plans for the 2018-19 season.
Nicell is perfectly comfortable with the ball at his feet and has wonderful vision. He is captain of the under-18s and has certainly made his presence felt in the middle of the park. He may have to be patient in his bid to breakthrough into the first team but Paul Heckingbottom is certainly the right man to have in the dugout. The proud Yorkshire-man is suitably straight-talking but the younger players clearly respond to his methods and he over-achieved at Barnsley on an extremely limited budget.
Callum Nicell is unlikely to get his chance to shine this season as the faint possibility of the playoffs is unlikely to allow for much experimentation. The Irishman is a hugely-promising prospect and his opportunity to impress in the first team will surely arrive in the not-too-distant future.
Kalvin Phillips has never been popular with the fans and has been inconsistent under every manager he's played under.
A young player doesn't want to be coming in with Heckingbottom's pub team tactics, it could set them back years.