Why Tottenham have signed teenage sensation Gray from Leeds

On Saturday afternoon, it emerged that Archie Gray was set for a shock move to Brentford, after personal terms were agreed between the teenager and the West London club.

But, by Sunday morning, Tottenham had become frontrunners with the deal formally completed on Tuesday morning.

Ange Postecoglou’s side have signed one of the brightest young prospects in the country – and Leeds will be cut incredibly deep. This one will sting for a long time to come.

But why has Gray – who, due to safeguarding rules, had to use a separate dressing room from his team-mates before he turned 18 in March – been signed by Spurs? Here, we take a look at the story of his fledgling career…

Continuing the Gray legacy at Leeds

First things first, the Gray name is royalty at Elland Road.

Archie’s grandad Frank and great-uncle Eddie made over 900 appearances for the club combined during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Together, they were part of the 1973/74 First Division-winning squad, and the squad that finished as runners-up in the 1974/75 European Cup.

Frank Gray played almost 400 times for Leeds
Frank Gray played almost 400 times for Leeds

Eddie would later return to manage the squad during two spells; between 1982 and 1985 and then between 2003 and 2004, latterly as the caretaker who oversaw relegation out of the Premier League. Regardless, he is seen as a legendary figure at the club to this day.

It came as no surprise that, when Frank’s son Andy started his career in the 1990s, he did so at Leeds. However, he could only manage 38 appearances, with the best form of his career coming elsewhere in Yorkshire with Bradford, Sheffield United and Barnsley.

Eddie Gray played over 500 times for Leeds and managed the club across two separate spells
Eddie Gray played over 500 times for Leeds and managed the club across two separate spells

And so it was the natural order when Andy’s son Archie joined Leeds’ academy a decade ago, aged eight. His younger brother Harry, 15, is also on the club’s books and already causing a stir at U18 level, but that is one to revisit another day…

Bielsa unearths a gem

The impact Marcelo Bielsa had during his time at Leeds went well beyond the pitch, but his ability to get the best out of players was second to none – Kalvin Phillips’ development is a prime example. But he can also take some credit for Gray’s accelerated rise to the first team.

Archie Gray was only 15 when he first appeared on Leeds' bench in December 2021
Archie Gray was only 15 when he first appeared on Leeds’ bench in December 2021

Gray was still at school, preparing to take his GCSEs when the Argentinian started to bring him into the first team fold. Remarkably, during an interview with The Athletic earlier this year, Gray suggested he had little fear about making the step up.

Clearly convinced by his ability, Bielsa named him on the bench for the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal a week before Christmas in 2021 and again on January 16 for the 3-2 win at West Ham.

Marcelo Bielsa brought Gray into the first team fold
Marcelo Bielsa brought Gray into the first team fold

That was it for the next four months. He had been given a glimpse, but with Bielsa’s departure in February and the very real threat of relegation lingering, experience was required to salvage Leeds’ place in the Premier League.

Bielsa’s replacement Jesse Marsch had been wooed by Gray’s talents, too, though, and named him as a substitute for the final four crucial matches, the last of which was a 2-1 win at Brentford, which secured survival in the most dramatic fashion.

A stellar breakout season

Archie Gray celebrates Leeds' second goal vs Leicester

After Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League at the end of 2022/23, there was an exodus of sorts; big-money signings on Premier League wages departed on loan.

While the 17-year-old Gray started the season alongside Ethan Ampadu in central midfield, Luke Ayling had continued at right-back, with little competition after the loan departure of Rasmus Kristensen to Roma.

Djed Spence had come in on loan himself, but was hampered by injury – and when he did play, he deputised at left-back throughout the Christmas period.

The 1-0 win at home to QPR on October 4 turned out to be the very last time Ayling started a game for Leeds. Three days later, Gray replaced him at right-back for the first time and made the spot his own.

Over the course of the next 36 games, Gray started 28 at right-back, four in midfield. There were two brief cameos and twice he was left on the bench, likely to give his legs some much-needed respite.

His assured, composed performances helped him to a place in the England U21 squad in March and he scored on his debut against Azerbaijan.

“I’m very proud of how he’s been doing so far,” said his great-uncle Eddie during an interview with Sky Sports ahead of Leeds’ play-off semi-final against Norwich.

“He’s been playing in a position that is not natural to him; he’s a midfield player and he’ll end up playing in the middle of the park. I can see him, in years to come, being a box-to-box midfielder because he’s a good athlete.

“But he’s still learning the game – and he’s keen to learn the game. Hopefully he goes onto good things with the football club.”

Premature new beginnings

It was plain to see how much the play-off defeat to Southampton at Wembley in affected Gray. Losing at Wembley always hurts, but more so when it is your boyhood club.

Given his tender age, the sobering experience will provide invaluable experience that will set him apart from his peers even more so.

Before the recent developments, there was no obvious reason to suggest trudging back down the stairs from the Royal Box with a runners-up medal in hand would be his final action in a Leeds shirt, particularly because Gray only signed a new four-and-a-half year deal in January.

“It’s just a dream come true,” he said after signing. “The club trust me and trust my family and hopefully I can repay it.”

In an interview with the Guardian, he had spoken about hopes of winning the Champions League with the club and captaining England.

The latter remains on the table – and it would be no surprise if he did so in years to come, given the way he has taken to the professional game like a duck to water.

For now, though, it seems the former will have to be put on pause. A fairy tale to revisit some day in the future.

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