Leeds United were heavily linked with a move for Charles De Ketelaere over the summer transfer window, however, despite outbidding AC Milan for the attacking midfielder – with Victor Orta believed to have lodged a €35m (£30.5m) plus add-ons offer with Club Brugge KV – the 21-year-old had his heart set on a move to Italy, joining Milan in a €32m (£28m) plus add-ons deal.
Although, while it would undoubtedly have come as a gutting blow to miss out on a player as exciting as the Belgium international – who scored a quite remarkable 18 goals and registered 10 assists over 49 appearances in all competitions last season – Jesse Marsch could well already possess a dream alternative to the Milan starlet – in the shape of 16-year-old Archie Gray.
Indeed, despite his tender age, the attacking midfielder has already made a real impression at Thorp Arch, scoring two goals over 10 appearances for the U18s, as well as bagging one goal and registering three assists over 18 fixtures for the U23s.
His goal for the U23s was particularly eye-catching, with the teenager picking up a wayward pass from the Manchester United goalkeeper, before floating the ball deliciously into the left top-hand corner from all of 35 yards out – giving his side a 3-0 lead against the Red Devils.
Introducing Archie Gray. pic.twitter.com/7bWjyVMrSS
— Joe Donnohue (@JoeDonnohue) March 15, 2022
These returns have seen the youngster come in for a significant amount of praise, with Jamie Redknapp dubbing the 16-year-old both “the best young midfield player I’ve seen in years” as well as a “future England star” in an interview with 90min at the start of the season, while Marsch has also taken note of his potential and ability.
Speaking after a pre-season victory over Blackpool back in July, the 48-year-old manager said (via The Athletic): “I consider Archie a first-team player at 16. I think he’s got the full package. He’s a big part of our plans. It’s not like we have a 16-year-old kid in with the first team. He’s one of the players. That’s a big compliment for him.”
As such, while it may be a few years before the Elland Road faithful see Gray’s name in the starting XI on a regular basis, the forward-thinking England U17 international could well prove to become the perfect alternative to De Ketelaere for the Whites – not to mention one who could save the club millions of pounds in transfer fees.