Leeds v Rotherham: Emerging youngsters provide building blocks

Leeds United's Alex Mowatt. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Leeds United's Alex Mowatt. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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AND so, another season at Leeds United that, at times, has bordered on high farce draws to a close.

A bewildering managerial merry-go-round, an owner banned by the Football League, players suddenly declaring themselves unfit en masse to the bemusement of the club’s head coach – all these and more have helped turn Elland Road into a circus for much of 2014-15.

Throw in the, as yet still unexplained, suspension of assistant manager Steve Thompson at the start of last month and, in many ways, Rotherham United’s visit this lunchtime bringing the curtain down on the campaign could be seen as a blessing.

Except, even amid the turmoil of this most crazy of seasons, there has been a genuinely enjoyable aspect for supporters and that has been the emergence of a promising brood of youngsters.

Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Sam Byram have all excelled this term, especially since Neil Redfearn’s appointment was made permanent in late October.

All four, providing United can keep at bay the rival clubs casting an envious eye over the Academy graduates, look capable of helping Leeds become a force in the Championship.

“The pleasing thing for me (about the youngsters breaking through this season) is that it has brought a lot of things closer together,” said Redfearn, whose own future beyond the expiry of his contract next month remains shrouded in doubt.

“Our supporters are a lot closer to the players and the players are a lot closer to each other. That has to be a good thing.

“We perhaps knew more about Alex Mowatt, and we knew about Sam Byram as well. But the other ones – Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Kalvin Phillips – they have made a big impact on our season to the point where we have relied on people like Lewis Cook quite heavily.

“They are what I would describe as the building blocks, along with people like Luke Murphy, who has come into form and found his feet. He is looking like the player we all knew he was.

“There has also been Scotty Wootton finding a bit of form, Liam Cooper getting some experience and Marco Silvestri coming in and getting some Championship experience under his belt and knowing what the division is all about.

“These are building blocks and these are things you are looking to add to in the summer so you can become more of a force in this division next season.”

The season, as has often been the case at Leeds, will end with more questions than answers.

Will Redfearn be retained as head coach? Who will come in to take charge if he is let go? Will Leeds again look mainly abroad in the summer transfer window? Plus is Massimo Cellino, who is facing two further court cases over tax evasion in his native Italy this summer, in it for the long haul?

The first of those imponderables likely to be sorted is, surely, Redfearn’s future. On results, the 49-year-old deserves to be given a full season at the helm.

However, the mysterious suspension of assistant Thompson and the silence from the club over whether Redfearn is seen as the man to take the club forward suggests he may be heading for the exit.

Let us hope not, as United – and, in particularly, the youngsters whom Redfearn nurtured as Academy chief – will be much better served by the former midfielder remaining at the helm.

The alternative is yet another change at the top. While this, in itself, is not a barrier to success as Watford, with no less than four different men at the helm this season, have proved by already having clinched promotion, the left-field nature of appointments made by Cellino would surely leave supporters anxious.

Redfearn has to be the surer bet, especially as his continued presence would surely suggest proven Championship talent arriving this summer rather than what has proved to be a largely forgettable influx of signings from Cellino’s native Italy.

Only Silvestri of these arrivals from abroad would have a chance of playing in any of the sides currently residing in the top six and even then the goalkeeper has been prone to making costly mistakes. As for the rest, it is debatable whether any have proved to be an improvement on last season’s squad.

First, though, Rotherham await along with Steve Evans, who has promised to don his sombrero and beach wear in recognition of safety having been assured in midweek.

“I am looking forward to that because the sun doesn’t get under the stands where we are,” laughs Redfearn. “I think he will need a lot more than a sombrero and a pair of shorts.

“Me? I’m more of a balaclava man than a sombrero.”