Leeds United teen emerges from £20 million Manchester City shadow to show exciting potential

When Darko Gyabi’s £5 million transfer from Manchester City was announced, news of Leeds United’s newest recruit was somewhat overshadowed by the man heading the other way.

Kalvin Phillips – revered in this part of Yorkshire, and for a time last summer, the whole country – bid an emotional farewell to Elland Road as he sealed a £42 million switch to the Etihad club.

Being overshadowed is something the London-born youngster has had to get used to, coming from City’s academy.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – JULY 22: Darko Gyabi of Leeds United acknowledges the fans after the Pre-Season friendly match between Leeds United and Crystal Palace at Optus Stadium on July 22, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

Gyabi arrived something of an unknown quantity; a player with no senior experience who had seemingly been second or third choice at No. 6 or No. 8 for City’s Under-23 side.

Prior to the teenager’s move, there were whispers that should Phillips move across the Pennines, that highly-rated youngster Romeo Lavia would head the other way in a player-plus-cash deal.

Manchester City’s £15 million valuation of the Belgian soon put paid to that.

Instead, Leeds landed Gyabi and the England Under-19 midfielder soon jetted off to the other side of the world with his new teammates.

Involvement in first-team affairs during pre-season helped allay some of the concern surrounding his transfer fee, but as with the development of any young player, these things take time.

Leeds can be satisfied with the progress Gyabi has shown during these early months at Thorp Arch – if it is even progress at all.

There is every argument to suggest the 18-year-old always possessed such talent, but was starved of the opportunity to show it.

Gyabi made just seven starts out of an available 26 in Premier League 2 Division 1 for Manchester City last season.

This year, he is already halfway to achieving the same figure with Leeds.

Stuck behind the aforementioned Lavia, Gyabi’s experience in Manchester is reflective of many other youngsters locked in elite academies, denied regular minutes at a crucial stage of development by an outstanding talent.

Lavia subsequently moved to Southampton this summer and started each of the Saints’ first five league games before picking up a hamstring injury.

He is already a Belgian Under-21 international, despite being born in 2004, and has demonstrated his ability to compete at a Premier League level with extremely limited prior exposure to senior football.

Gyabi failing to oust Lavia in his first full season at Under-23 level last year is no slight on the Leeds man; he should be commended if anything for managing to break into the side towards the end of 2021/22, which culminated in a PL2 Division 1 title win at Elland Road.

Elite academies such as Manchester City stockpile the best around because budgets mean they can, and their odds of producing a homegrown player straight out of the academy are higher when there is more talent in the building.

At the very least, the competitive environment creates players who can be sold on for considerable sums; Gyabi and Lavia raised a cumulative £20 million this summer – £10 million per senior appearance.

There may come a time when Leeds’ academy follows a similar route, but for now it is focused on preparing the current crop for genuine first-team opportunities.

Gyabi has been one of the Under-21s’ standout players during their unbeaten start to the campaign, juking challenges, spinning out of trouble utilising his superior strength and showcasing creative potential with the ball at his feet.

At Thorp Arch, where on occasion he has been promoted to first-team training, Gyabi is able to demonstrate his top-line potential with a realistic prospect of first-team football in the months and years to come, overshadowed no more.