Leeds United v Watford: Charlie Cresswell epitomises Marcelo Bielsa’s belief in the academy

With Diego Llorente fit again and Pascal Struijk back from suspension, it may be Charlie Cresswell’s second Premier League match for Leeds United does not come at home to Watford this afternoon but the giant centre-back has already made an important contribution to his club.

With the Whites still to record their first league win this season, today will be very much about the here and now but coach Marcelo Bielsa always has one eye on the future.

Last week against West Ham United, 19-year-old Cresswell became the first product of Leeds’s academy to make his maiden league start in the Premier League since the club returned there last season.

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It was less an important milestone, more a signpost to a group of under-23 players the Whites have invested heavily in over the last 18 months.

Charlie Cresswell thanks the fans after his Premier League debut ( Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

For Bielsa, bringing through youngsters is not just something he wants to do, but something he forces himself into by insisting on only having 18 senior players for a competition where 20 are needed every matchday.

For those who work hard behind the scenes and for supporters, the sight of one of their own – in Cresswell’s case, the son of former player Richard – wearing the shirt is uplifting.

“Seeing academy players playing in the first team is one of the best feelings for the fans, for the clubs, for the coaches, for everyone because it shows you’re doing a part of the job well,” says Carlos Corberan, Cresswell’s under-23 coach at Leeds before moving to become head coach of Huddersfield Town two summers ago.

“That’s why we have academies. Every time you see an academy player in the first team it’s good news for the whole club.

Charlie Cresswell beats Michail Antonio to a high ball. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“Financially it means you’re not spending a big transfer fee, but you also know you have a player who has emerged from your work.”

Many top Premier League managers are hoarders when it comes to footballers, constantly badgering chairmen, chief executives or directors of football for a player in this position or that, just in case the first- or second-choice gets an injury. As in so many other ways, Bielsa is different. At Leeds it is normally the executives badgering to him to ask is he sure he des not want someone else?

“A Premier League player is a very expensive player and not every team can have 25 players who can be starters so I prefer to have less players but of a higher level,” explains Bielsa.

“But in every fixture there are four or five players missing and those players who replace them come from the young team, players 18 to 33. After the 18 (senior) players you have the rest up until 33 so you can have three players per position.

Charlie Cresswell celebrates his openng goal against Fleetwood Town in pre-season (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“The difference between player one and two is not that big but for the third option for every position we try to find players who can replace those in front of them. When we manage to achieve that, when (Joe) Gelhardt is better than (Patrick) Bamford, Rodrigo and Tyler (Roberts), that will be a triumph for the work we have done.”

But his willingness to promote youth does not mean free rides.

“What I want is for him to play and verify that he is good, not to verify that he doesn’t have the ability to play,” says Bielsa. “That’s why I am very careful to position a player to play. For (Jamie) Shackleton to aspire to be a starter took him a long time. In his games he might have played better or worse but he gave the necessary level. With Cresswell and Pascal the same and that is what we try to do with all the young players.

“The fact that (Robbie) Gotts is not here, (Jordan) Stevens is not here (both released to join Barrow), Alfie (McCalmont, on loan at Morecambe) is not here, (Wrexham’s Bryce) Hosannah is not here, I live that as a failure.

“Of course, players leaving the club have an opportunity to come back again but the first opportunity, the most important one, is the one we give them when we think they could be a starter.”

Lewis Bate, a midfielder bought from Chelsea’s youth system in the summer could be the next cab off the rank, though it is pleasingly congested.

“He is a player that performs better every time in the games he is a part of,” comments Bielsa.

“He is constantly managing the ball, he doesn’t lose it very often and has got a good sense of a pass, he can thread it through the eye of a needle.” For the Argentinian’s vision to come to fruition needs two elements, according to Corberan.

“I know Cresswell because I was managing him with the under-23s and he was training with the first team,” he says of a player who was yesterday called up by England Under-21s for the second time this season.

“Seeing him playing in the Premier League was the consequence of his determination because he’s a player that has shown a lot of determination to deal with any difficulty to achieve what he wants to.

“I watched that game (against West Ham) and he competed really well.

“Secondly for me was the determination of Bielsa to develop young players to a high level of football.

“He has young players knocking on the door every single day ready to take the opportunity. The determination of the player is more important than the determination of any coach because many players work with different coaches, it’s the players who make the difference to achieve the dream of many people’s work.”

Cresswell has come through his first interview for the job of senior Leeds United player, and drew enough encouraging comments in it that being called back for further questioning today cannot be discounted. But even if not, making that first step was important to so many more people than just him.