LEEDS UNITED has become a byword for uncertainty in 2014.
The often chaotic managerial goings-on at Elland Road that began with Brian McDermott being ‘sacked’ on the eve of last February’s derby clash with Huddersfield Town only to be reinstated 24 hours later have seen to that.
Dave Hockaday’s shock appointment then merely reinforced the message that anything can – and often does – happen at Leeds, a club whose on-going search for the former defender’s successor has seen no less than 11 ‘candidates’ declared to be favourite at one stage or another by the bookmakers.
Late on Friday night, however, it seemed the search was finally at an end to put a new man at the helm, with the club expected to announce Darko Milanic as their new head coach in the next 48 hours after the Slovenian negotiated a deal to sever his contract with Austrian club Sturm Graz.
Amid all the drama and often head-spinning turn-of-events, however, one thing this season has been considered as a given. Namely, Lewis Cook’s smooth progression into the first team.
The York-born midfielder may not be due to celebrate his 18th birthday until February next year but, ever since the assured manner in which he helped England Under-17s to glory in the European Championships, it has been a case of when and not if his chance would come.
Immediately drafted into the first-team squad for the pre-season tour of Italy, Cook – who modelled his game as a youngster on hero Steven Gerrard – impressed sufficiently to be granted his debut as a second-half substitute in the opening day defeat at Millwall.
A first Championship start followed in last month’s 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers and he has since helped United to a much-needed upturn in form via a battling 1-1 draw at Birmingham City and Tuesday night’s 3-1 triumph at Bournemouth.
Cook is likely to be among the first names on interim manager Neil Redfearn’s team-sheet for today’s eagerly-anticipated West Yorkshire derby with Huddersfield Town, underlining just what sort of impact the youngster who joined Leeds at the age of just six has made.
Not, however, that he considers himself to be anywhere near a fixture in the team, as he made clear when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of taking on the Terriers.
“I wouldn’t say I am established, no,” said the 17-year-old midfield. “I still feel quite young. But I do want to be playing week in and week out. That is my overall goal.
“Hopefully, I will feel established like that one day but definitely not at the moment. I just love running out at Elland Road. It is like a dream for me after being at the club for so long. It was something I had wanted to do ever since a little boy.
“I watched games and thought, ‘What will it be like to play in front of these fans?’ Now I am luckily enough to be doing that.”
Redfearn, as United’s Academy boss since the start of 2009, has played a big role in Cook’s development.
Earmarked by those in the know at Thorp Arch long ago as an excellent prospect, it was this summer’s Under-17s European Championship that truly thrust the midfielder into the spotlight.
In a squad dominated by Premier League youngsters, Cook shone to such an extent that John Peacock, coach of the Under-17s, used him regularly and started him in the final against Holland.
Cook only came off near the end of a hard-fought final due to picking up a booking, meaning he was on the sidelines as the final finished 1-1 and went to penalties. England held their nerve in front of a 9,000 crowd in Malta to win 4-1 in the shoot-out with Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny converting the decisive penalty.
“The European Championships were a great thing for me,” said Cook. “It was a great experience and an unbelievable feeling.
“I had never been to a tournament like that and won it before. We had known each other (as players) for a long time and there is some great banter between the lads.
“Things were pretty mad when we won the final. But I really enjoyed it and want to build on it.
“The big thing was it gave me a lot more confidence. I think it also helped me become recognised, putting me in the manager’s eye.”
Buoyed by success with the Three Lions, Cook returned to Leeds to learn Hockaday wanted him on the club’s pre-season tour.
The tour itself may have been something of a mess, with one opponent not even turning up and the other being so poor that Leeds won 16-0.
But, for Cook, it was a chance to get to know the set-up and his new team-mates. Once back in England, the teenager continued to impress and even caught the eye of president Massimo Cellino, who lavished praise on the youngster before adding: “I never expected to find someone so special playing for Leeds.”
United fans, who have always relished getting behind a homegrown hero, have been equally effusive but Cook insists all that matters is how the club does.
He said: “I have been lucky to have someone like Redders in charge. Me and Alex Mowatt played for him quite a bit because he had been our coach for a long time.
“We know him quite well and that helps because we know how to speak to him.
“As for the squad, a lot of new faces came in but they are all great talents. We can do anything. I do feel we are coming together as a group now.
“Their English is coming along. We communicate fine and we have some great laughs on and off the pitch
“I really enjoy it round the training ground. Everyone gets on and I feel we can achieve anything we want, if we put our minds to it.”