by Phil Hay
Academy players at Leeds United know they’ve broken the glass ceiling when their Twitter followers go through the roof. Alex Mowatt is close to hitting 10,000, a figure beneath most of his elders at Elland Road but a sign of the times nonetheless.
Leeds take an interest in more pertinent signs of Mowatt’s growth – his debut against Doncaster Rovers, for example, and the deft free-kick he converted in a development league win over Derby on Monday. That goal saw him labelled the “outstanding player on the pitch.”
This has been one of those months for the 18-year-old; a period in which he can do no wrong.
Certain youngsters scratch the surface at Leeds and disappear just as quickly but after excelling on his first senior outing at Doncaster last week, Mowatt was named in the initial squad for Saturday’s Championship defeat to Queens Park Rangers and omitted latterly from the final group of 18. United are keeping him close, and understandably so.
“It’s been a good week for me,” Mowatt told the YEP. “Making my debut with the first team was a great experience, and against my hometown club as well. I was a bit nervous but the lads were supportive. It’s all good – and my Twitter followers have gone up too!
“I found out I was playing the day before. We did some work on the team shape and I was in the team. That’s when I knew I’d be involved at Doncaster.
“On the night I thought I did pretty well. The gaffer took me off towards the end which was probably the right thing to do because I was blowing a bit. But I played all right.”
He has already learned the art of under-statements. His 74-minute appearance in Leeds’ League Cup win at the Keepmoat Stadium earned him much attention, not least from Brian McDermott.
United’s manager sang his praises afterwards and evidently toyed with the idea of involving Mowatt to some extent against QPR, the Championship leaders.
“I was in the squad for that game but didn’t make the bench,” Mowatt said. “As long as I’m in or around it, that’s good enough for me.”
It’s good enough for the simple reason that Mowatt has held a professional deal at Elland Road for less than six months. He was also injured for much of that time and had no more immediate ambition this season than getting a grip of his fitness.
McDermott was aware of him, however, and gave Mowatt two prime opportunities to impress – one in a development squad friendly at Shelbourne and the second in match at Colwyn Bay on a night when Mowatt scored another classy free-kick.
David Norris, United’s experienced central midfielder, was originally due to play at Colwyn Bay but Mowatt took to the field in place of him and caught McDermott’s eye immediately. He was promptly named on the bench for Leeds’ Capital One Cup first-round tie against Chesterfield. “I just wanted to play games this season, whether it was with the 21s or whatever,” Mowatt said. “I was injured for a while last season so I only really thought about playing again.
“I didn’t know all this was coming but when Chuck (David Norris) came out of the squad against Colwyn Bay, I got my chance. The gaffer told me I was going to play and I did well in that game. I’ve been training with the first team ever since.
“I’m playing well at the minute and all I’m thinking about is training hard. It seems that if I do well then I’ll get another chance.”
McDermott has spread that message around Thorp Arch. He is a coach who integrates himself with the academy and regularly attends games. He was present at Monday’s Under-21 match against Derby, despite the transfer window closing that night.
“We all know that if you’re playing well the gaffer will give you a chance,” Mowatt said. “It’s a lot different to how it was before.
“He comes to the games and watches us as much as he can. If you’re playing well then you might get to train under him and if you do well there then you’ll get a chance. It’s what we all want.”