Niall Huggins: Highs and lows but not ready to throw the towel in!

Leeds United have had great success recently when scouting all over the world for youth players of different ages to join their academy. York seems to be the home of the local youth talent; with the likes of Charlie Taylor, Sam Byram, Jack Clarke and Ryan Edmondson all of whom were born and raised in York. Another player from York currently playing for Leeds United’s under 23’s is Niall Huggins. Niall was born in York but represents Wales at youth level, qualifying through his dad Marvin. He joined Leeds United initially as a part of their shadow squad after being scouted playing in the age group above at a tournament for Garfoth Villa. Leeds weren’t the only club interested in Niall, with Manchester United also showing interest. His dad, Marvin said “As a kid Niall loved going to Leeds and the facilities at Leeds are fantastic so we chose Leeds’. Another factor that played a part in choosing Leeds was that Marvin and the rest of Niall’s family believed that it was the “obvious choice”. This was due to Leeds United’s success rate of producing players and giving them excellent opportunities. During his grass-roots playing days in York, Niall played with Jack Clarke before they both signed together for Leeds United after impressing in the shadow squad and for Heworth. Even as far back as 2006, scouting was a fickle game. Marvin recalls the point that Niall was playing for Heworth and they were approached by a scout from Huddersfield who did his very best to put Niall off the idea of joining Leeds; stating all the reasons he could that he shouldn’t join. Low and behold a year later, Niall and his family were approached by the same scout who, at this point now worked for Leeds United. As expected, he seemed to be singing from a different hymn sheet, telling the family what an excellent choice Leeds would be for Niall. He was however too late as Niall was already a part of Leeds United.

In the past few months Niall has been playing regularly for the under 23’s and has been one of the better performers despite there being several first team players dropping down. It hasn’t however been plain sailing, with him very nearly being released at the age of eight. He had an extra 6 week trial to impress the coaches at Leeds whilst those around him were signed for another year. When he did eventually sign at the under 9 level, he had periods where he wasn’t getting in the team, which his dad says was tough. “He had periods of not getting picked which didn’t fill him with confidence but he seemed to ride through the storms and came out stronger at the other end”. Niall also went through periods where he was constantly injured. Having broken his ankle in training for the under 14’s and missing twelve weeks, he dropped down an age group in order to regain some confidence. The injuries wouldn’t get any better, with him missing half a season due to a back injury at under 16 level before being out of action for a further eight months in his 1st scholar year with a stress fracture in his femur. This was the most stressful period for Niall and his family having not yet signed a professional deal and spending his days sat in a physio room whilst everyone else was out playing and progressing. It’s safe to say that his resilience has been tested. 

Having put the injuries aside, he enjoyed a very productive season for Mark Jackson’s under 18s, scoring twelve goals in twenty-nine games, which earned him a one year professional deal. Since being given a  opportunity before Christmas, after being slightly frustrated with his game time, Niall is grabbing it with both hands. In his last five league games, Niall has scored two including a great free kick vs Sheffield Wednesday and assisted on three occasions.

Since breaking into the side before Christmas, he has played a number of positions including striker, number 10 and even wing back. Throughout the age groups he has been playing mainly on either wing but has had stints in defence in order to develop his understanding of the game. Niall is technically very good however he does lack physically. This is however an area of his game he is working hard on in improving at the gym. His pace across a short distance combined with his tenacious attitude means that he’s a real problem for defenders. His versatility is something else about him that has been impressive to see as he is comfortable both attacking and defending in the formation that Leeds choose to play. There are some areas of his game that he needs to improve but having missed so much time for development due to injuries, this is to be expected.

Niall signed a one year deal in the summer of 2019 and he is out of contract at the end of this season. His dad says that he’s doing everything he can to earn a new deal, stating “we don’t really have a plan B at the moment but he’s just focusing on trying to impress at Leeds”. All young players have different paths into professional football, some start late and work their way up through the leagues and some have a smooth transition up through the age groups in academies encountering no real problems. Niall is currently stuck in the middle, but one thing is for sure, Niall isn’t ready to give up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer having overcome so many obstacles to get to the place that he is at currently.

Written by Thomas Wilson.

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