Patrick Vieira, Usain Bolt and going Dutch - Everything you need to know about Ipswich Town signing Greg Leigh

Greg Leigh has signed a two-year deal at Ipswich Town.

Greg Leigh has signed a two-year deal at Ipswich Town. - Credit: ITFC

Greg Leigh has become Ipswich Town’s third summer signing. STUART WATSON looks at his career to date. 

Greg Leigh, Manchester City

Greg Leigh came through the youth ranks at Manchester City. - Credit: PA

STARTING WITH STARS 

Born in Sale, Leigh joined Manchester City’s academy at the age of nine in 2004. Having started out as a striker he was soon converted into a left-back.  

Leigh was nominated for the Sky Blues’ 2012/13 academy player of year award. He talks fondly about playing under academy coach Patrick Vieira for a year, saying: “I owe it all to him really because educationally he is so meticulous.” 

He also praises the influence of the senior defenders in the club at that time. 

File photo dated 17-04-2022 of Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira. Palace look like having one of

Greg Leigh had Patrick Vieira as a youth team coach at Manchester City. - Credit: PA

“I spoke to people like Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott a lot,” he says, in a wide-ranging interview with the Matchfit Football podcast.

“I looked at the way Vincent Kompany shows people into areas where there is no space and the way he uses his body. 

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“Joleon told me that whenever someone tries to play their way around you with a one-two then you turn into the man and push them rather than turning towards where the ball goes. 

“Just being at Manchester City, where the standards are so high, stood me in good stead.” 

Leigh played in several first team friendlies during the summer of 2014 after Manuel Pellegrini’s men had just finished second in the Premier League. 

A senior breakthrough did not come for the 19-year-old though. 

“I was supposed to be on the bench for a Capital One Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday, but hours before kick-off I was told I wasn’t picked,” he explains

“(Aleksander) Kolarov was meant to be injured but he came in during the pre-match meal and the manager took us into a meeting and told us the team and I wasn’t in it. 

“Kolarov started so (Gael) Clichy was on the bench. 

“That’s when it hit home I had to think about where I wanted to be. I needed to get out on loan – I didn’t want to play under-21s football for three years in a row.” 

Greg Leigh, Crewe Alexandra

Greg Leigh's first taste of senior football came during a loan spell at League Two side Crewe Alexandra. - Credit: PA

LEARNING ON LOAN 

Leigh’s first taste of senior football came with a season-long loan spell at Crewe during 2014/15. 

He made 38 starts in a typically youthful Railwaymen side that narrowly avoided League One relegation. 

“Greg did well for us,” said boss Steve Davis. “He came through a tricky spell and finished strongly. I like the fact that he didn’t sulk and go back to Manchester City when it got a bit tough for him. He stuck it out, was eager to improve and he did improve.” 

Crewe were keen to sign him permanently following his Man City release that summer, but ultimately were ‘too far away with the finances’.  


BLOCKED AT BRADFORD 

Instead, Leigh signed for a Bradford City side that had just finished narrowly outside the League One play-off places. 

“One thing I have done through my career – and I know it has been a short one – is to test myself,” he said

“For example, I played Under-21s football when I was in the Under-19s. So, I was playing two years ahead. 

“Then I had to test myself again so I went on loan last year (to Crewe). After that, I felt that I needed another challenge.  

Bradford City's James Meredith during the Sky Bet League One play off final at Wembley Stadium, Lond

James Meredith kept Greg Leigh out of the team at Bradford City. - Credit: PA

“Being the club this is with the players we have got, it would test me more. That is what I felt. 

“A lot of people come up and ask for my signature and then say, “Who are you again?” I want to make my name known in football, especially at Bradford.” 

Leigh was restricted to just six league starts in his debut season at Valley Parade though, with established Australian left-back James Meredith (who would go on to play in the Championship for Millwall) ahead of him in the pecking order. 

Bradford finished fifth before losing to Millwall in the play-off semi-finals.  

Bury's Greg Leigh and Sunderland's George Honeyman (right) during the Carabao Cup, First Round match

Greg Leigh (left)had two seasons playing in League One for Bury.

BURY BOY 

Phil Parkinson offered Leigh a new deal at Bradford, but Leigh rejected that in order to find regular first team football elsewhere.  

He eventually signed for another League One side in Bury, the Shakers having just finished 14th in the table under David Flitcroft. 

Leigh quickly established himself as a week-in, week-out starter. The Greater Manchester club finished 19th and then 24th. 

Manager Lee Clark, who was sacked midway through the relegation campaign, said of Leigh: “He was my most consistent player in the 14 games last year and I think he has got all the tools to be a Premier League footballer.” 

Leigh finished that season under the caretaker management of Ryan Lowe (who went on to manage Bury, Plymouth and now Preston). 


GOING DUTCH 

Having racked up 127 starts in League One, Leigh decided to challenge himself again in the summer of 2018. He signed for Dutch top-flight side NAC Breda. 

He was restricted to just 14 starts in his debut season there though as the team finished bottom.  

“I had four years in League One,” he said. “That was so competitive and fast-paced. It’s literally like a basketball game constantly going forwards and backwards. It’s a very, very physical league. 

“Holland was very different. It’s football first there. The players are very, very technical. But I didn’t feel their decision-making was as good as in League One. I was looking at some of the players thinking ‘if you could grasp when and where to pass the ball then you’d be a phenomenal player’.  

“The onus in England and Scotland is to win at all costs. If that means the ball has to go back to front and you defend for your lives then that’s what you have to do. In Holland it’s like they don’t mind conceding goals if they were trying to play football. 

“My game, at that time, was very physical. It was like ‘if I get the ball I’m going to drive with it and do whatever I can’. The fans of my previous clubs had liked that direct style of play, but the manager I had wanted more two-touch football. 

“That’s probably why I didn't play as many games as I would have liked over there. 

“It was frustrating because, as a player, you sometimes see things not working and you want to change it. It’s like ‘do I follow the philosophy of the manager or do I try to do what I believe is bets for the team?’ 

“That spell at NAC made me realise that it’s important to pick clubs and managers who believe in your style of play.” 

Aberdeen's Greg Leigh during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow.

Greg Leigh suffered two lengthy injuries during his two years at Aberdeen. - Credit: PA

ABERDEEN AGONY 

Leigh subsequently joined SPL side Aberdeen on a season-long loan in 2019. He scored two goals in 23 appearances before the spell was cut short by a stress fracture to the shin. 

Manager Derek McInnes had seen enough though. After his release from NAC Breda was negotiated, Leigh signed for The Dons on a short-term deal. 

“What we get is a bit of versatility,” said McInnes.  

“He can play left of a (back) three, left-back is predominantly his main position, left wing-back he can play as well. He gives us a bit of athleticism and is a good size.  

“He’s got decent experience and asks the right questions. A number of clubs in England showed interest, but we sold the club and he bought into it.” 

Leigh extended his contract in January until the end of the season only to suffer a campaign-ending hamstring injury. 

“My first injuries were when I was 16 - I was out for five months and then a further six months,” he says. “That’s when I started to watch games. 

“I then stayed pretty much injury free until I was 25. Then I had two more major injuries (at Aberdeen). 

“There’s a stage where you can’t do a lot, it’s just rest and recovery. I had to tell myself that there are a lot of things outside of football that are just as important, if not more important. That helped.  

“When you tie your identity to football and things go wrong it leave you thinking ‘who am I?’  

“When I was out injured I realised I could watch the game from the sideline and think ‘what can I do to help this side when I get back?’ It made me want to get back as fast as possible so I could implement all this new wisdom that I had gained.  

“I like to map things out in my mind. How am I going to get fit? How am I going to stay fit? How am I going to get better?” 

Ipswich Town are understood to be closing in on the signing of Morecambe left-back Greg Leigh (left).

Greg Leigh (left) made 38 starts for League One club Morecambe last season. - Credit: PA

SIGNING FOR SHRIMPS 

Last summer, off the back of those injuries problems, Leigh signed a one-year deal at newly-promoted League One club Morecambe. 

Shrimps boss Stephen Robinson said: “He’s a boy I’ve tried to sign two or three times at Motherwell. 

“He’s had injury problems so that’s probably the reason we’ve got him, otherwise he’d be playing at a higher level. 

“So it’s a case now of keeping him fit and I think he’ll be a big asset to us. Greg can play left-back, he can play in midfield. He gives us that pace and energy.” 

Leigh started 38 games for the Lancashire club in all competitions, helping them reach the FA Cup third round and beat the drop. 

“For me personally it’s been a good season because I have got a lot of game time,” he said recently. “It was important for me to show I can stay injury free. 

“When you suffer injuries you do have some doubts in your mind. ‘Can I do this anymore?’ ‘Can I play week-in, week-out, Saturday-Tuesday?’  

“I think I did a decent job of answering those questions. I have only missed two or three games through injury.” 

AMBITION TO CLIMB 

Back in January, Morecambe went to Tottenham in the FA Cup third round. They took the lead in the 33rd minute before ultimately losing 3-1 to late goals scored by Harry Winks, Lucas Moura and Harry Kane. 

“It was huge - honestly, it was massive,” says Leigh. 

“When you play in the lower leagues every team wants to stay in the cup competitions as long as possible in the hope of getting a big team away. You want to play in the best stadiums, against the best players and in front of big crowds to test where your levels are. 

“We went there to play with a solid base and to try and stop them. I feel we did an excellent job of that. We worked so hard and they couldn’t break us down. 

“I got to play against top calibre players like Kane, Moura and (Matt) Doherty. I got to ask myself ‘how far am I off the top level?’ I finished that game thinking ‘okay, I don’t think I am too far off that pace’. It gave me confidence. 

“After that I thought ‘if I can defend well up against that player, or get past that player, then I should be able to do it in my own league’. It gave me affirmation that I can be what I believe I can be. Everyone has ambitions to move up the leagues.” 

It became clear in end of season negotiations that Leigh would be departing the Mazuma Stadium to seek his next challenge. 

REGGAE BOYZ AND USAIN BOLT

Leigh represented England at U19 level, playing alongside the likes of Jordan Pickford, John Stones and James Ward-Prowse. 

He switched national allegiance to Jamaica in 2020 though, qualifying through his father's side of the family, and featured in two friendly matches against Saudi Arabia. 

In the season just gone he picked up five more caps, playing in World Cup qualifiers against USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras.  

The Reggae Boyz weren’t able to qualify for this winter’s tournament in Qatar.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt after finishing third in the Men's 100m Final during day two of the 2017 IAAF W

Greg Leigh's uncle, Warren Blake, helped Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt stay fit. - Credit: PA

“Playing for Jamaica is something I’d thought about a lot,” said Leigh

“It was a while happening because of everything that’s going on (Covid). It took about a year to get my passport. 

“My family are very proud of it and that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. 

“My uncle Warren Blake is quite well known in Jamaica because he’s involved in the athletic set-up. 

“He’s an orthopaedic surgeon who has worked with Usain Bolt, so he and my cousins were excited to see me in the setup.”