Eighteen-year-old Archie Gray had never even played for Leeds a year ago; now, he’s making a big-money move to Tottenham. Here, we take a detailed look at his strengths and weaknesses.

A year ago, aged just 17, Archie Gray was still a month off making his first appearance for Leeds.

This week, he left Elland Road for Tottenham in a deal which could end up worth as much as £40 million as he heads not just for the Premier League after Leeds failed to make it there, but one of the top flight’s biggest clubs, too.

His rise has been rapid.

Gray moves to Spurs as a hugely exciting prospect for the future, but also a signing who will hope to impact the first team immediately.

Taking a cynical view, this was an opportunist move from Spurs, who took advantage of Leeds’ need to balance the books with the sale of a major asset. The fee might have been higher were it not for Leeds’ financial situation: in their statement following the sale, Leeds – who said they were “heartbroken” to lose Gray – acknowledged this deal “improves the club’s chance to compete for automatic promotion next season by increasing our ability to build a competitive squad within the league’s financial control regulations.”

Gray wasn’t angling for a move, either. He would have been happy to stay and try to make it to the big time with his boyhood club – the same club where his father, Andy, grandfather, Frank and great uncle, Eddie, played. At his age, he knew there was no need to rush into anything.

But after a hugely impressive debut season with Leeds, Spurs took their chance. Just when the teenager appeared set to join Brentford, Tottenham snuck in at the last minute to add a versatile and exceptionally talented youngster to Ange Postecoglou’s rebuilding project.

But just what kind of player have Spurs got their hands on?

Gray is primarily a central midfielder, and one that can play in a variety of different roles there, but it was at right-back where he shone for Leeds last season.

He began the season in central midfield, but Luke Ayling’s loss of form and subsequent January loan move to Middlesbrough meant Gray made the right-back position his own, playing 64% of his minutes there for Leeds in the Championship in 2023-24, compared to 30% in the centre of midfield.

Archie Gray positions played for Leeds, Championship 2023-24

Gray started the play-off final at Wembley at right-back, becoming Leeds United’s youngest-ever player at the national stadium, aged just 18 years and 75 days. He took the record from his father, who played there in the 1996 League Cup final when he was 55 days older than Archie.

Given he was pretty much unknown – certainly outside of West Yorkshire – at the beginning of the season, it’s worth reflecting on how far he has come and how much he achieved in his first year in professional football.

He is the youngest player to make 50 appearances for Leeds United in their entire history and one of just three teenagers to play 50 or more matches in a season for the club (along with Fabian Delph and Sam Byram). Since 2004-05 in the Championship, only three players aged 18 or younger have played more minutes in the league in a season than Gray did in 2023-24 (3,600).

And finally, before he had turned 18, Gray started 32 games in the Championship, the same number as Jude Bellingham did for Birmingham City, and a total bettered only by two players – Ryan Sessegnon and Gareth Bale, both of whom of course moved on to play for Tottenham. One of them was a pretty major success.

Gray is extremely comfortable on the ball and despite his age exudes confidence on the pitch. He constantly looks to receive to feet, can play off either foot and is effective at retaining possession, though he is by no means overly careful or cautious on the ball.  

He showed the extent of his ability with his performance in midfield at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in the FA Cup in February.

Playing a fortnight before his 18th birthday, Gray made the most successful dribbles of any player on the pitch (4 – a tally bettered by just five visiting players at Stamford Bridge in the whole of last season, including Phil Foden and Mohammed Kudus) and won the most duels (6) of any Leeds player. He also completed 93% of his passes, the best rate of any non-defender in the match. Gray’s sliding tackle to win the ball back early in the game also led to Leeds’ first goal.

This was arguably the game when Gray’s name came to wider-known prominence, a man-of-the-match performance broadcast live on television, as he displayed on a grander stage the composure that Leeds fans had already come to know well.

Looking at Gray’s numbers in the Championship in 2023-24, he led the way at Leeds for tackles, with 97, the most by a Leeds player in a league season since Ayling in 2020-21 (108) and the most by a teenager in the Championship since Jayden Bogle (110) in 2018-19.

archie gray successful take-ons championship 2023-24

He was also second for Leeds for the number of times he won possession back (205) and third for successful dribbles (45), behind dribble kings Georginio Rutter and Crysencio Summerville.

Although assists were sparse – Gray picked up just two all season – one of those showcased Gray’s talents as he lifted a glorious pass behind the Swansea defence to set up Willy Gnonto in a 4-0 win in Wales in February.

This is an area he could do with improving, though. Given the positions he got into in an attack-minded right-back role for a possession-dominant side who should really have won promotion last season, two assists and a total of just 18 chances created all season isn’t a great return.

It’s not like he struggles to find teammates in advanced positions; he completed 85% of his passes in the final third over the course of the entire season, compared to a rate of 84% across the entire pitch. But his final ball does sometimes let him down.

archie gray touches championship 2023-24

Gray finds space in advanced parts of the pitch through a few different methods. He can dribble inside onto his left foot or go down the line, while he is also effective when playing quick one-twos around his opponent. If beating a defender isn’t an option, he has the vision to spot a teammate’s run and play a clipped ball over the opposition’s full-back and in behind the centre-back – much like we’ve come to expect from Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool. Gray has the ability to quickly turn comfortable possession into a threatening position.

There was very little wrong with Gray’s game in 2023-24, but if you were being critical, he doesn’t look entirely at home when isolated at right-back against a tricky winger. He struggled in two games in December against two of the Championship’s top 10 dribblers from 2023-24, finding it tough going against Sunderland’s Jack Clarke – himself a Leeds academy product – and Preston’s Liam Millar, with those two players making up 20% of the times Gray was dribbled past last season in just two games (6/30).

However, from January until the end of the season, Gray was only dribbled past 10 times in 24 appearances, suggesting he learned quickly from those two displays and worked hard to improve what might have been considered a weakness to his game.

So, with all this in mind, where is it likely he will appear for Tottenham next season?

On the face of it, Gray is perfect for Postecoglou’s system given the Australian likes his full-backs to invert into central midfield and he likes his central midfielders to move out wide both in deep and advanced positions.

But Pedro Porro has been a huge success at Spurs and seems to have the right-back spot locked down, so it might be that Gray is more likely to act as the Spaniard’s backup and an alternative for the Europa League campaign. He could therefore get more Premier League game time in central midfield, where Tottenham could do with a little bit of a refresh, with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg likely to leave and Oliver Skipp still struggling to convince.

Postecoglou could justifiably have concerns about Gray’s one-on-one defending at full-back. The teenager will of course improve at a higher level, but if he struggled against Clarke and Millar last season, he could have real problems against Gabriel Martinelli, Jérémy Doku, Anthony Gordon and Luis Díaz, to name a few.

The progress Gray’s new Spurs teammate Pape Matar Sarr has made should give him hope that he can develop in a similar fashion under Postecoglou. Tottenham will have many more matches to play next season as they are back in Europe, and Gray should get adequate game time on the pitch.

With so much of his career ahead of him, there is so much potential upside to this deal for Spurs that the fee could easily and quickly be proved a snip. Gray could be around in north London for a very, very long time, but don’t bet against him making an impact right away.

Enjoy this? Subscribe to our football newsletter to receive exclusive weekly content. You should also follow our social accounts over on XInstagramTikTok and Facebook.