Nohan Kenneh: Turning down Leeds offer for Hibs switch, impressing Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch, and the yellow card pub quiz question

Hibs new boy Nohan Kenneh turned down the offer of a new deal from Leeds United to make the move to Easter Road.

Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 4:55 pm

The 19-year-old, who came to the UK as a refugee from Liberia at the age of six put pen to paper on a three-year deal, the transfer taking effect from July 1 when his Elland Road contract expires.

Kenneh began his football career with the Bradford City and York City academies, joining Leeds in 2014. Since then he has impressed at Under-23 level and caught the eye of both Marcelo Bielsa and his successor Jesse Marsch. The Argentinian gave the teenager gametime in pre-season and his first call-up to the senior squad during the Premier League season.

He was offered a new deal by the Whites but turned it down, opting to move away for first-team football after a stand-out season in the Premier League 2 Division 1, although Leeds suffered relegation on the final day.

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Positional quirk

Kenneh has been signed by Hibs as a number 6, or a defensive midfielder, but was viewed by those at Thorp Arch as a perfect fit for a centre-back role. However, with several players ahead of him in the pecking order, first-team opportunities looked slim.

On top of that, when he was included in the first-team squad it was often during the absence of Kalvin Phillips, with Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich or Robin Koch filling the two defensive midfield roles and Kenneh on the bench.

It should also be noted that Leeds often play their academy prospects in more than one position – former Motherwell winger Stuart McKinstry, who swapped Fir Park for Elland Road in the summer of 2019, has been utilised in his natural position but also in central midfield and right-back for the Under-23s.

Nohan Kenneh opted to join Hibs despite a new offer from Leeds. Picture: Alan Rennie / Hibernian FC

In his own words

There is always the chance that injuries may force Kenneh to play in defence for Hibs but the 19-year-old has spoken about his preferred position.

"I've been asked a lot what I see as my preferred position and for me, it's a holding midfielder or a number six. I feel that the position brings out the best in me,” he explained.

"I like to break up play, and play forward quickly – that's one of my biggest strengths, so when I'm playing as a six it's easier to do that.”

Kenneh was handed a first-team opportunity in pre-season by then boss Marcelo Bielsa, and impressed successor Jesse Marsch as well

Team player

Kenneh is very much a team player and the arrival of both the midfielder and veteran goalkeeper David Marshall align with Lee Johnson’s vision for a close-knit team.

“For me, it’s all about the team. I want to work hard for Hibs and show them what I can do,” Kenneh told HibsTV.

An occasional captain of Leeds U23s, Kenneh’s team spirit can perhaps best be summed up by an incident at Molineux on March 18. With Leeds 2-0 down to ten-man Wolves and less than half an hour to play, goals from Jack Harrison and Rodrigo brought them back on level pegging, with Luke Ayling completing a remarkable turnaround in injury time.

Nohan Kenneh is looking forward to the challenge at Hibs. Picture: Alan Rennie / Hibernian FC

Kenneh, an unused substitute, was booked after sprinting across the pitch to join the goal celebrations; referee Kevin Friend brandishing the yellow card as the player made his way back to the bench.

Senior prospect

Despite his relatively tender years, Kenneh has been brought in as a first-team player at Easter Road, not a development prospect. While he will clearly seize the opportunity to improve under Lee Johnson’s tutelage, he has had more than a taste of senior football during his time at Leeds and made the decision to leave to get more first-team chances.

"I've been around the Leeds first team for a while and I feel like I'm ready for the challenge. This is massive, but it's the right step for me and my family. The biggest thing for me is kicking on, and working hard,” he explained.

"Being around the first team at Leeds and going to away games, I grew up as a person and as a player. Training with the first team helped as well. When you’re in that Premier League environment, you get that atmosphere and sense of belonging – ‘this is where I want to be’.

"I really enjoyed the challenge of playing in the EFL Trophy as well and seeing how good I was in men's football because that's the main aim for any player.

Kenneh, far right, celebrates a late winner at Molineux with Luke Ayling, Robin Koch, and Stuart Dallas

"You want to challenge yourself and go up against teams that have better quality and show what you're capable of.

"I feel like I got more confidence as I went on and I think I did well.”

Johnson has made signings at each club he has managed in the mould of Kenneh: young players ready to make the step up to senior football who are trusted with regular gametime. The signing of Kenneh is further interesting because of the formation Johnson preferred during his final games at Sunderland – 4-3-3, with a holding midfielder sitting just behind the two central midfielders.

While it is far too early to predict what way the manager will line up his Hibs team, Kenneh would certainly fit into those tactics as well as the 4-2-3-1 which Johnson also utilised at Sunderland and Bristol City.

Buying into the project

Kenneh was sold on the move to Hibs by Johnson, who explained what he wants to build at Easter Road. The new manager outlined his aims for new signings when he spoke last week.

“We’ve got to sell the dream to players; make them feel wanted, valued, and make them believe in that playing style, then they will defend it with their life.”

Kenneh added: “When I spoke to the manager he really sold me on the project.

“It’s a massive step for me but I feel like I’m ready for the challenge. The manager gave me a lot of confidence, told me what he sees in my game, what I can improve on, and I think us working together will be a good partnership.”