Lewis Cook arrived back in England on Thursday with a European Championship winners’ medal in his possession. As one of Leeds United’s most promising scholars, an invite to the first-team table won’t be far behind.
Cook flew out to Malta with England’s Under-17s hoping for nothing more than the experience of playing in front of proper crowds but on Wednesday night, he and a squad dominated by Premier League academy players walked off with the trophy after beating Holland on penalties.
Cook was one of only three representatives of Championship clubs taken abroad by John Peacock, the little-known yet exceptionally successful coach of England’s Under-17s. Cook himself has a limited profile at Leeds but he made sizeable strides this season, a regular for both the Under-18s and the development squad despite his age and his status as a first-year scholar.
They expect much of him at Thorp Arch and United’s coaching staff there had their high opinion of Cook justified by his prominent role in England’s European Championship win. Peacock used him regularly and started him the final, substituting the midfielder on 74 minutes after Cook picked up a booking.
The 17-year-old stood and watched as the game finished 1-1 and descended into a penalty shoot-out. Holland lost their nerve and lost the shootout 4-1.
“If I’d been on the pitch, I’d have taken one,” Cook said. “It wouldn’t have worried me at all.
“People say England aren’t very good at penalties but it turns out that actually we can do it. We’d been practicing them over and over again in training and when it came to it, the lads did the job. The work paid off.
“We’re all absolutely buzzing and I don’t know when the feeling will sink in – probably when I get home and see my friends and family. It’s a massive achievement and we’re proud of it. I didn’t expect it.
“Obviously I wanted us to go as far as we could but when I got the call-up, the thing I was looking forward to most was playing in front of big crowds. I haven’t really had that before.”
Wednesday’s final was attended by 9,000 people, a huge step up from the sparse attendances seen at English academy fixtures.
Cook, who is under contract at Elland Road for the next two years, has not mixed with United’s senior squad yet but he is likely to be involved in the club’s pre-season schedule on the strength of his progression in the past 12 months.
Though club owner Massimo Cellino has temporarily closed the training ground at Thorp Arch and spoken about leaving the complex permanently, Benito Carbone – Leeds’ new technical consultant – made it clear last week that Cellino’s strategy at United would rely heavily on players taken from their youth-development scheme.
Cook said: “I’d like to think that I can do enough to get myself involved with the first team soon.
“The great thing about the academy at Leeds is that young players do get a chance. I’ve seen lots of lads go onto the first team and I’d love to do the same. It’s what we’re all aiming for.
“This has all been a first for me – the experience of playing in a big tournament and the attention we’re getting back home. It’s been really good mentally and I’ve learned a lot. For the way we played in most of the tournament, I think we deserved to win it.”
Under Peacock, England’s Under-17s have won both of the last two European Championships.
His current squad suffered only one defeat in Malta, losing 2-0 to Holland in the last match of the group stages.
A tense but resilient 2-0 victory over Portugal in the semi-finals – a match which Cook also started – set up a rematch with the Dutch and Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny converted the decisive penalty in the final.