Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa has revealed the motivation behind letting Niall Huggins leave the club this summer amid strong links to Sunderland.
It was reported earlier today that the versatile defender, who is capable of playing on both the left and right side of the backline, was having a medical ahead of a permanent move to the Black Cats.
A product of the Yorkshire club’s academy system, Huggins made his league debut for the Whites last season and signed a new three-year deal at Elland Road in December 2020 but it seems he’s now set to depart.
Speaking in a press conference ahead of Leeds’ game against Everton this weekend, Bielsa was pressed on Huggins’ exit and revealed the motivation behind letting him leave.
He told the Shields Gazette: “Nothing has happened we hadn’t looked at before.
“These young players – [Ryan] Edmondson, Niall [Huggins], [Robbie] Gotts, [Jordan] Stevens – part of the under-23s in previous seasons.
“They have a process of development. When they peak in this development, like with each of these named, they have to compete with a very small group chosen for the season.
“In this case [Huggins]: [Luke] Ayling, [Stuart] Dallas and [Jamie] Shackleton play in his position. He hasn’t got the chances to overcome these players at the club.
“If I keep him at the club rather than aid his development, I hinder it. If the youngsters are not here, there comes a moment they need to look for higher competition than the 23s because progress would be stalled.
“All our expectation is they compete outside the club for a year and we find an evolution that invites them back into the fold.
“Without exception, every player out on loan I see every week because it’s my function, you grow a bond between these players, an affection. Alfie [McCalmont] and [Leif] Davis too. We desire it goes well for them and to bring them back.
“They made big efforts to be in the group and we accompanied them.”
The 20-year-old is would not be the first young player to leave the club permanently this summer as Oliver Casey joined Blackpool permanently earlier in the window.
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The motivation outlined by Bielsa for Huggins’ exit is certainly understandable and it may be something that fans have to get used to seeing more often now the Whites are a Premier League side.
The 20-year-old’s versatility could well be key for Sunderland, who look a side that needs support at both left-back and right-back.
Huggins’ arrival would certainly be on-brand with the business that the Black Cats have done this season, with 17-year-old Callum Doyle, 19-year-old Dennis Cirkin, 21-year-old Frederik Alves, and 23-year-old Nathan Broadhead all joining the club this summer.
Clearly, Johnson is going to put a lot of faith in young players this season.