NEIL REDFEARN has challenged Leeds United to hold on to their brood of promising young talent this summer by declaring:“You don’t sell your best players.”
The Elland Road club have once again endured another turbulent campaign, never more so than in the last week or so following the suspension of assistant manager Steve Thompson.
His removal led to Redfearn, whose own deal runs out in the summer, seriously questioning his own future before pledging to see out the rest of the season.
United supporters made their feelings clear throughout the Easter double-header against Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers by chanting the name of the club’s head coach.
Redfearn, a boyhood Leeds fan, will have his own future resolved once the final game on May 2 is out of the way but, regardless of whether he stays or goes, the 49-year-old is adamant that the club must fight off any interest in Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram et al if next season is to bring success.
“It is only a worry if something happens,” said Redfearn after a week that has seen Liverpool linked with Byram, Hull City scouting Mowatt and Cook being the subject of interest from several Premier League clubs.
“You are always going to get speculation because they have been brilliant. I’d like to think that the message has always been that we are planning and building, that we keep these players.
“You don’t sell your best players. You keep your best players. If we really mean business and if we are going to get promoted, then you don’t sell your better players. You keep them.”
The emergence of Cook, Mowatt and full-back Charlie Taylor along with Byram’s return to form after an injury-ruined 2013-14 have been the big positives in a campaign that has seen owner Massimo Cellino banned by the Football League and United sack two managers.
Redfearn, as the club’s Academy chief since 2009, has played an integral part in that blossoming of talent and he believes a strong bond exists between the youngsters and United.
He added: “They know now, having been in there and found their feet and proved what they are capable of, that they want to be part of this. You can see that.
“You tend to forget that some of these kids have been here since they were eight years old. They have been brought up on Leeds United. Football is not straight-forward. But these players can play in the Premier League for Leeds United; they know that.
“They are very close as a group and I think it would be a real wrench for them to leave. So with that in mind, you hope they make the right decision.
“They know what I feel about them. They know how strong I feel about this club and what it can achieve.
“For the first time in a long time, this club is actually quite together on the pitch and in the stands. It has been drawn together. Long may that continue.”
Kalvin Phillips, the latest off the United production line, is expected to make his home debut tomorrow against Cardiff City after impressing in Monday’s 4-3 defeat at Wolves.
Asked about the impact the youngsters have made this term, Redfearn replied: “On the pitch and on the training ground, I can see these young lads blending and finding their feet.
“I can see the seniors buying into the philosophy of what we are trying to achieve and I can see the overseas lads integrating.
“I can see that they are finding their feet in the Championship and about what is expected, and I can see it getting better and better.”
Redfearn’s record this term, first as caretaker manager and then as permanent head coach since late October, is impressive.
Even allowing for the double defeat over Easter, United have taken 46 points from 31 games – a huge improvement on the six that Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanic collected from a combined 10 games.
Despite that, Redfearn’s future remains shrouded in doubt with the Elland Road hierarchy understood to have until before the final-day meeting with Rotherham United to make clear whether the club wants him to stay in charge or not next term.
Asked about his own future, he replied: “I don’t want to start talking about all that. I have stated that it is important I finish the season off for the club and the players.
“I have then got to sit down with the powers-that-be and discuss it. The important thing is the football club.
“I am tough enough to deal with being in charge of Leeds United. I think that is important and I think people are perhaps seeing that.
“I also know that it is a great club that is just starting to get to its feet and I think perhaps the football world is realising that.
“For me, you want to be about it because you want to be involved with something that is going to be successful – and I honestly believe that this football club in the next couple of seasons can be really successful.”