A south London teenager has joined top prospects Jude Bellingham, Mason Greenwood and Billy Gilmour as one of the youngest British footballers to make a senior debut in recent years.
In February, Nathan Laleye became the youngest footballer to play for Guildford City FC when he came on as a substitute aged just 16 years and two months.
Manager Paul Barnes decided to play the left-winger in the Combined Counties League Premier Division after he impressed in training.
Laleye, who also plays as a striker, is currently practising with Guildford while awaiting a move to one of the top Portuguese sides.
Despite his young age, the teenager is already sprinting harder and covering more distance than most adult footballers.
In Laleye’s debut game against AFC Hayes, he covered approximately 11.45km – the best in the Premier League in a single game was 13.21km last season.
Laleye’s sprint distance against Hayes, the total amount of distance a player covers while sprinting in a match, was 973.61m, which is higher than the average of 746m.
This means he is already adapted to the English game, where sprint distances and high-intensity runs are required more than on the European continent.
Guilford City FC manager Paul Barnes said: “ It was a superb debut from Nathan Laleye. He has a bright future in the game.
“I was so proud of him for his performance and maturity in stepping up to senior football. He was bright and hardworking. What a way to introduce yourself as a 16-year-old.”
Laleye’s impressive start can be compared to other top young British prospects who have made a senior debut at a young age recently, including Borussia Dortmund’s Bellingham, Manchester United’s Greenwood and Chelsea’s Gilmour.
Laleye’s running stats are similar to Gilmour, who made his Premier League debut for the west London side on August 31, 2019.
The Scotland international was just 17 when he came on as a substitute against Sheffield United.
In 2020 before the Covid restart, Gilmour was Chelsea’s record runner in a single game when he covered a colossal 12.62km against Everton.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel praised the Gilmour, saying: “He has the perfect mix between being humble and patient but also trying in every training session to improve and learn and not show too much respect.
“Billy has a lot of qualities — he is very self-confident in our training games, a very strong passer, very smart in finding positions and he has all the physical abilities to play in the first team.”
In comparison, Laleye covered 11.45km in his debut game, but he was a year younger than Gilmour.
In the Premier League 2019/20 season, the most distance covered by a player in a single match was 13.21km, which is an indication of Laleye’s work rate.
Laleye has also been a prolific goal scorer at youth level, just like England striker Greenwood.
Greenwood, the youngest Premier League starter and European player for Man Utd at 17, netted an impressive amount for his academy teams.
Legendary former Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson praised Greenwood as one of the best young players in the world, saying: “He’s got the coolness and coldness of a great striker. He never panics and his shots are always low.
“He’s always inside the post. I think he’s shown great qualities.”
When Greenwood was just six years old he scored a staggering 16 goals in his debut match for a local side.
He went on to play for the Man Utd under 18s when he was 15 and scored an impressive 17 goals in 21 games.
Laleye was just as prolific when he was younger, scoring an impressive 74 goals in a single season at Dagenham and Redbridge’s youth team when he was 11.
Laleye’s progression at a young age can also be compared to Bellingham, who in 2019 became the youngest footballer to play for Birmingham City aged just 16 years and 38 days.
Since moving to Dortmund this season, he broke the record for the youngest Englishman to score in the Champions League, aged 17 years and 289 days, when Dortmund lost 4-2 to Manchester City in the quarter-finals.
After Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney, he was also the third-youngest player to make his England debut aged 17 and 136 days, when the Three Lions played Ireland in a friendly at Wembley last November.
England manager Gareth Southgate praised Bellingham for his ability to handle pressure.
He added: “I’d say (mentality is) further advanced than his football even.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with him as a human being. His parents have done a fantastic job and should be very proud.
“He’s got humility, good manners, confidence and a lovely way about him.”
Laleye has the mix of attributes top managers, including Tuchel, Southgate and Ferguson, say young players need to succeed.
Tuchel says confidence and physical abilities are essential which Laleye has shown by making his senior debut at such a young age.
His manager at Guilford City FC Barnes described him as “mature”, “bright” and “hardworking”.
Laleye’s distance covered and sprint distance stats demonstrate he has the high work ethic and physicality needed in a high-intensity league.
Sir Alex adds being cool and having a “coldness” in front of a goal is vital for an attacking player, which Laleye has demonstrated with his high scoring record as a youth player.
Southgate stresses being brought up the right way is important because it produces “humility”, “good manners” and “confidence” in a young player.
Laleye’s father Richard, who has three sons, has ensured they have a positive mindset.
He said: “I have taught Nathan and his younger brother Aaron that hard work pays off, as well as being committed to what you want to achieve in your life, setting your goals high and to never be disappointed if you have set backs.
“Life is full of different challenges, there will always be obstacles in your way, which you can overcome by staying focused, just because the past didn’t turn out the way you wanted it, doesn’t mean the future can be better than you imagined.”
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