Leeds United's Ethan Ampadu on showing maturity, adaptability and leadership in breakthrough season

It seems daft to say of a player who hit 50 caps for his country this year and who made his senior debut in 2016, but this has been a breakthrough season for Ethan Ampadu.

Because despite all his experience – making his Exeter City debut as a 15-year-old, first playing for Wales as a 16-year-old, a Chelsea debut aged 17 and playing in the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and Champions and Europa Leagues – 2023-24 was the season he cut the apron strings.

Finally he turned away from a life of loans at Leipzig, Sheffield United, Venezia and Spezia to make a £7m move to Leeds United which was a step backwards to go forwards.

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To say it has gone well would be an understatement. An ever-present in this season's Championship, the now-23-year-old began as Leeds' midfield metronome before midway through switching to become their central defensive rock. On Sunday he will lead them out in the Championship play-off final against Southampton at Wembley.

"Every season's important but this is the first season where I'm not on loan," he reflects. "I've got a bit of stability. I've found a home.

"I'm very thankful for my career so far. Each loan was different. You go to play games and get some experience and maybe through the years we didn't achieve our goals but you learn from them.

"You're not stable because you don't know what's going to happen the next season but that happens in football anyway. You don't act like a loan player, you're part of the team and you're there to do a job. You have to work as hard as you can for yourself and the team."

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Twenty-three is young to be a captain. Liam Cooper is Leeds’ club captain but is set to be on the bench. Pascal Struijk wore the armband before the injury which caused Ampadu to drop back into a position he knows very well.

LEADER: Ethan Ampadu has usually been Leeds United's on-field captain in the second half of the seasonLEADER: Ethan Ampadu has usually been Leeds United's on-field captain in the second half of the season
LEADER: Ethan Ampadu has usually been Leeds United's on-field captain in the second half of the season

But the numbers on Ampadu's birth certificate are misleading.

"Going abroad has made me more mature, not just on the pitch but off the pitch," he argues. "You learn a different culture, there's a different language you have to try and pick up, a different lifestyle. I think it has made grow up quickly.

"But I've really enjoyed the experiences and the places I've lived."

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They – and the quality of players around him – have helped him seamlessly form two partnerships amongst the best in the division.

"Me and Joe have played together for Wales so I think that familiarity helps," he says of centre-back Rodon. "He knows my game and I know his game. I think we've shown that in the second half of the season.

"Archie (Gray) and I had never played together before this season but we clicked quite well (in midfield). In pre-season it worked and we enjoyed playing with each other."

But this most adaptable player has tried to stay the same as captain.

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"I've tried to lead as best I can but I've tried to be myself and still tried to play my game and my position,” he explains. “Just because I'm wearing the armband doesn't mean I can do anything different, I've still got to play as well as I can and give my best performance for the team.

"We've got 11 leaders. Everyone leads in their own way. We've got a lot of young players but they want to achieve a lot in the game and work tirelessly to achieve our dreams.

"Sunday is a perfect opportunity for us to do that."

Achieving it will be a huge vindication of last summer’s decision to drop into the Championship.

"It was because of how massive a club Leeds is, everyone knows Leeds as a Premier League team," he says of his choice. "Leeds want to be back in the Premier League and I want to be playing in the Premier League."

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