FOLLOWING his latest taste of calling the shots at first-team level, Neil Redfearn is the first to admit it has whetted his appetite for more involvement in the future.
Redfearn was afforded choice fayre in his four games in recent charge as interim head coach of Leeds United, amassing an eye-catching haul of 10 Championship points out of possible 12 on offer ahead of handing over the reins to Darko Milanic.
Club man that Redfearn is – and one of the few reassuring constants in some truly turbulent times in the past few years at Elland Road, let’s be honest – the 49-year-old repeatedly said during his caretaker tenure that he was comfortable to go along with whatever owner Massimo Cellino decided regarding the future head coaching role.
It always represented ‘the president’s decision’ according to Redfearn, keeping to that line from the 1-0 victory over Bolton at the end of August in his first game in charge to his last game in the dugout against Huddersfield on September 20.
In the end, Cellino decreed that Redfearn’s impressive work overseeing a flourishing renaissance at the club’s academy meant that he was too valuable to be moved from where he was and ruled him out of the running ahead of setting his sights on Milanic.
But Redfearn would perhaps not be human if he did not take confidence from his latest and most productive spell in temporary charge, his third in all.
The Yorkshireman turns 50 next June and while he is excited about his ongoing work with the academy and understands that his presence has helped provide much-needed stability at that level following a number of changes in the summer, he feels his ultimate calling is at first-team level at some point in the future.
On his recent first-team experiences, Redfearn, speaking after his Under-21 side’s emphatic 6-0 triumph against Doncaster Rovers in the Premier League Cup at Elland Road on Monday night, said: “It has obviously whet my appetite for wanting more.
“I enjoyed my time with the first team and that is where I see myself in the future. It gave me a good insight into it and obviously, I did not let myself down and it has put the club in a far better position.
“The wins were important and came at a time when we needed victories and we got three out of the four games and, in the end, it has proved quite pivotal because it has given us a platform now to go on and do more.”
Redfearn’s importance to the bigger picture at Elland Road at all levels was underlined by Milanic stating that he would continue to be part of the first-team set-up at his unveiling a fortnight ago – and be by his side in the dug-out for his first game in charge against hosts Brentford on September 27.
But the Slovenian’s comments appeared to be lost in translation and while he and Redfearn spoke ahead of the Bees game, the latter, out of respect, was keen to give the new head coach space to ‘do his own thing’ and not be a shadow over his shoulder.
Team shape and compactness appear to have been the early watchwords for Milanic, moreso after he saw his side produce a disjointed performance in his first game in charge at Griffin Park, with more disciplined home performances against Reading and Sheffield Wednesday having yielded two steady if unspectacular results.
Redfearn said: “Obviously, Darko is his own man and will do his own thing. To be fair, he is quite well organised in what he does and the players are disciplined.
“We are perhaps different in how we are as coaches. But he has got this way of organising things from the back and things look tighter there and fair play to him.”
Redfearn was back at Elland Road on Monday to oversee the academy’s cup dismantling of Doncaster, which was lapped up by punters who attended.
While Brazilian play-maker Adryan was the man most spectators came to see, a host of rising talents did their cause no harm on a night when United displayed a noticeable freedom of expression with the ball and attacking verve.
The pure footballing traits and commitment to passing football which many fans warmed to during Redfearn’s temporary stint, notably in the victories against Huddersfield Town and Bolton Wanderers and the final intoxicating half-hour at Bournemouth, was in evidence on Monday and, at academy level, there is plenty to be enthused about.
Redfearn said: “Through the academy, the message I have brought in, also when I have worked with the first team, is about taking possession of the ball and playing it around and being attack-minded.
“Wherever we were on the pitch (on Monday), we could deal with the ball and we passed our way out of tight situations and worked the ball in and around the box.
“I thought people like Chris Dawson and Adryan were outstanding and their ball manipulation in and around the box was unbelievable.
“It makes you dangerous as a side. But I thought everyone played their part.”
Admitting that playing at Elland Road, as opposed to Thorp Arch, provided the players with an extra spring in their step, he added: “Ideally, you’d have all your under-21 games here. But I understand we have to look after the surface, because the first team is the most important.
“But it was great for them as they came out and got a taste for it and it makes them want more and you could see they really relished playing there.
“The most important thing was looking after the ball and playing with the ball and moving it through the thirds and having something at the end of it and being dangerous. I thought that was the case.
“The football looked measured and I thought we looked a real slick outfit.”