Marcelo Bielsa is hoping to persuade Eddie Nketiah that he should not just stay at Elland Road for the rest of this season, but next as well.
The England Under-21 international, who is targeting this afternoon’s Under-23 game at home to Sheffield United for his return from injury, is on a season-long loan from Arsenal.
Despite having scored five goals in all competitions for the Whites – a tally bettered only by fellow centre-forward Patrick Bamford, who has six – Nketiah is yet make a Championship start for them.
That has prompted much debate about whether the Gunners might recall him during the mid-season transfer window.
Head coach Bielsa wants to persuade Nketiah and Arsenal it is in their best interests for the 20-year-old to stay even beyond that to prepare him to play for a top Premier League club.
“I hope he will still be here and I hope he wants to stay with us,” said Bielsa. “I think it’s important he solidifies his integration into Leeds and it would be good for that if he stays after January and one more year so that he and Leeds are able to show the confidence we’re looking for in each other.
“That (returning next season) would be ideal to allow him to be a success at a club like Leeds.
“It’s clear that Leeds consider Nketiah to be a good player for us. We’re trying to make him feel that Leeds is the proper place for him to develop.
“Obviously we cannot compete with the top teams in the Premier League. What I am sure of is that if Nketiah is a success here in Leeds, his next step is going to be the top Premier League clubs.”
On the development of young players generally, Bielsa added: “For a human being to triumph, he must feel dear and want his place. Sometimes time and stability favour this process.”
Winger Jack Harrison is in his second season-long loan from Manchester City, and three goals in his last four matches – already equalling his four-goal tally of 2018-19 – suggest a player flourishing under Bielsa’s idiosyncratic methods.
And while Bielsa talks about Nketiah joining a big Premier League club, the ideal will be for Leeds to win promotion this season and be on the road to that status themselves by the summer of 2021.
Nketiah suffered in the first part of the campaign because Bielsa was unconvinced he was a better starting option than Bamford, despite his goals from the bench and in the League Cup.
In Bielsa’s possession-based style of play, it is essential the centre-forward is able to drop deep and bring Leeds’s many attacking midfielders into the game, and this is something Bamford is better at. That is why the clamour from some supporters to start Nketiah was resisted.
The striker seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough when Bielsa said after October’s 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday he had seen signs the youngster could do that job for the team, but before he was given the chance to back that up from the start, Nketiah suffered a lower abdominal injury in training, and has not played since.
This week he returned to training, and he is scheduled to face Sheffield United’s Under-23s at Thorp Arch on Friday, a first step towards returning to the senior side.
“He has trained well, he’s probably going to play a part in the Under-23s today,” Bielsa revealed. “Maybe he needs a while to be ready for the first team, I’m not sure. But that would be normal.”
Tyler Roberts will also miss Saturday’s Championship visit of Middlesbrough after injuring his hamstring in Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Reading.
“He’s making some progress but he can’t play this weekend,” said the head coach.
“The medical staff are analysing the situation.”
There remains no timescale for midfielder Adam Forshaw’s return. The 28-year-old has not played since the 1-0 defeat at Charlton Athletic in mid-September because of a hip problem.
“He’s not ready yet,” said Bielsa. “I can’t say when he’s going to be back.”
Meanwhile, the Argentinian has admitted other teams work more on set-pieces than Leeds, and that they need to learn from their rivals to make better use of corners in particular.
The Whites have scored only once from 116 corners in this season’s Championship, and their lack of goals has been holding the second-placed side back from even better results.
“I think English football is great at set-pieces, it has a very good culture around that,” commented Bielsa. “We see tall players and very good players who can deliver brilliant set-pieces.
“If you compare England with the top five or six leagues in the world it shows a lot of creativity in these kinds of situations.
“You see great set-piece goals in English football. That shows that managers work a lot at set-pieces – more than us.
“We have a player (Kalvin Phillips) who produces great deliveries, and good headers of the ball. I believe a lot in good delivery and a lot of players running onto it. When you have a good delivery, and the ball arrives fast, the size of the players and the speed of their arrival are secondary. It’s the speed of the ball when it arrives which makes the situation dangerous.
“I believe in Phillips’s delivery but it doesn’t mean that different options, such as short corners, are not being considered. We should think about everything.”