Over the past few years, Leeds United have enjoyed a great deal of success in bringing exciting youth prospects into Thorp Arch in the transfer market, before unleashing the most talented of these players in their first-team squad.
Indeed, the likes of Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood, Crysencio Summerville, Illan Meslier and Pascal Struijk have all made the move to Elland Road in recent seasons, before going on to establish themselves as regulars in Jesse Marsch’s senior side.
However, while there has been a great deal of fanfare regarding the first four of these aforementioned starlets, one player whose development at Elland Road has perhaps been overlooked somewhat is that of 23-year-old defender Struijk.
Upon joining Leeds from the Ajax academy back in January of 2018, The Express ran a report which highlighted the Whites supporters’ unhappiness with the former Netherlands U17 international’s signing – with many stating their belief that Victor Orta should have been focusing his attention on improvements to the first team, rather than signing youth prospects.
Now four-and-a-half-years on from his arrival, you would be hard pressed to find a supporter of the belief that the centre-back’s signing was a bad one by the Spanish director of football, as Struijk is now very much a key part of the Whites’ starting XI.
The defender first started to catch the eye over his 27 Premier League appearances back in 2020/21, a campaign in which the £16.2m-rated talent helped his side keep seven clean sheets and scored one goal, as well as made an average of 1.8 tackles, 1.7 interceptions, 3.1 clearances, 41.3 passes, 2.3 long balls and won 3.9 duels – at a success rate of 53% – per game.
These metrics not only saw the Dutchman average an extremely impressive SofaScore match rating of 6.94 that season – ranking him as the club’s joint 10th-best performer in the league – but also demonstrate both the 23-year-old’s solidity when defending and his ability to play the ball out from the back.
Furthermore, club captain Liam Cooper quite clearly believes that Struijk has an extremely bright future ahead of him in the game, with the 31-year-old stating of his teammate back in February this year:
“Pascal has absolutely everything to be one of the best centre-backs out there, he really has. He’s unbelievable on the ball, he’s strong, good in the air. I always knew. We all know now. His improvement speaks for itself.”
This season, the youngster’s impressive positional versatility – being able to operate from centre-back, left-back and defensive midfield – has already proven useful for Jesse Marsch, who has deployed the former Ajax starlet on the left of his back four in each of the Whites’ six Premier League fixtures in 2021/22 – as a result of Junior Firpo and Stuart Dallas’ respective injuries.
As such, while the cost of Struijk’s signing was never officially released, considering his age and the fact that Ajax appeared more than happy to part with the youngster, it can be reasonably assumed that the transfer did not break the bank for the Whites – leading us to believe that Orta very much hit the jackpot when landing the £7k-per-week sensation back in 2018.