TO rest or not to rest? That may be a question for many managers regarding their usage of young players – especially seven-and-a-half months into a nine-month seasonal slog.
But for Noel Whelan, the issue is more straightforward. Play your best players, especially when one goes by the name of Lewis Cook.
It is fair to say that when Leeds United’s team was announced ahead of kick-off in Saturday’s West Yorkshire derby against Huddersfield Town, there were a few furrowed brows and quizzical looks.
The main bone of contention was the decision by Steve Evans to rest jewel in the crown Cook with the gifted 19-year-old midfielder given a rare break from the starting line-up and named on the bench for the big showdown with Town.
Amid the fall-out of a grim 4-1 reverse, Evans attempted to justify his decision not to utilise Cook from the start by stating the youngster had been “on his knees” in the Roses victory at Blackburn Rovers.
It wore a hollow ring for some as did the decision to name Toumani Diagouraga as a substitute due to concerns regarding the former Brentford enforcer’s fitness – with the January signing being unused from the bench despite Leeds being besieged in a torrid one-way second half.
All this after Leeds came into the game on the back of three successive victories, with confidence levels seemingly on the rise as they endeavoured to claim a fourth consecutive league win for the first time since November, 2009 – against an derby rival to boot.
A good place, many would venture. But developments on the day against Town, who sauntered to their biggest win at Leeds since 1960 and made a mockery of United’s recent upturn, shattered that illusion.
Whelan, in his capacity as a summariser for BBC Radio Leeds watched events unfold with the angst of a fan in the weekend routing which obliterated the good feeling engendered by away wins at Blackburn and Cardiff and the home success over Bolton.
While Cook entered the fray on 65 minutes, it could not stem the tide or regain the initiative in a one-sided second-half.
Leeds may have issued a request to England U19s’ coach Aidy Boothroyd to be sparing in their use of Cook during three forthcoming elite-stage qualifiers in Spain, but many, including former Leeds striker Whelan, are rather more concerned with what went on closer to home.
On the resting of Cook, who has played 37 games for United this term – only his second season as a first-team regular – Whelan said: “Why Cook was sitting on the bench, I don’t know. He’d had a week’s rest.
“For me, it’s club before country. I don’t care if he is 18 or 19 years of age, he would have wanted to play in that match. It’s simple.
“I remember making my debut when I was 17 and played in lots of Premier League games and not Championship ones from 18 onwards.
“Let’s not talk about we need to rest him. I want to see him playing every single match and I wanted to do that for myself and my club.
“You have got to play your best team and we had to figure out that they would overload midfield and we had to figure out how to deal with that.
“We didn’t match them anywhere over the field and it was very sad to see for around 30,000 fans. They saw a very poor, weak performance when in the second half, our heads went down and we lost our discipline.
“I really wouldn’t have changed it from the Blackburn game and felt we needed more midfielders in there. With the way we set up, they kind of ran around us in midfield and the majority of games are won and lost in the midfield battle and their movement off the ball was better than ours.
“We never got near them.”