DAVID HOCKADAY has challenged Leeds United’s underachievers from last season to play their way firmly into his plans for 2014-15.
United are currently being put through their paces at a training camp in the Santa Cristina region of Val Gardena, situated in the Dolomites mountain range of northern Italy, where the emphasis is not solely on hard work but also developing team togetherness to serve them well over the course of the coming campaign after a fraught 2013-14.
For head coach Hockaday it offers invaluable time to ingratiate himself fully with his players and establish his working methods with them and alongside assessing the physical levels of fitness, he is just as anxious to get to know more about the mentalities as well.
Hockaday, who says every player will get 90 minutes of football under their belts in two matches against local opposition, said: “The break gives me a chance to assess the players because everything is wiped clean.
“These lads, the vast majority, are desperate to play for Leeds United and they are all going to be given a chance.
“Italy is going to give me a great chance to know every individual and get inside their heads. As the key to coaching players is me finding out what makes them tick.
“It’s them finding out about me and me finding out about them and finding a way to work forward together.
“We need to be a team in every sense of the word and we obviously haven’t been that for a while. So we need to make sure we are all bonding out there.
“I am very hopeful a number of guys are going to step forward and that I am going to say,‘ Wow, actually you are maybe better than you looked last season’.
“It’s a chance to get fit, get the tactics laid down and to bond and get the team looking right and for me to assess the squad.”
Five young players have been promoted to the first-team squad for the trip, with the surprise name among them being teenage central defender Jake Skelton, who hails from New Farnley.
Skelton, 18, who first came to the club’s attention as a nine-year-old and has worked his way up through their junior ranks since, admits the call-up represented a surprise, but an extremely pleasant one.
The promising centre-back was promoted to train with the first-team squad at Thorp Arch on Thursday, a welcome bonus following a 2013-14 campaign which saw him recuperate from a broken leg suffered at the end of the previous season before making an impact towards the end of the year.
The likes of Tom Lees, Alex Mowatt and Sam Byram have all propelled themselves to first-team prominence after appearing for the academy and that remains Skelton’s ultimate aim.
He said: “They have shown that when you get a chance, you have just got to take it and hopefully this is my chance and I can take it with both hands.
“I didn’t play much football last year. But the year before, I had a good, strong year as a first-team scholar.
“When we started on Thursday, it was very much a surprise, but a nice one.
“Neil Redfearn came inside as well and said: ‘You are going to be training with the first team’. I am a bit nervous, but I think nerves are good to be honest.”
Also included in the 20-man squad with Skelton were fellow rookies Lewis Walters, Lewis Cook and Chris Dawson.