Leeds United: Youth is looking brighter - Redfearn INTERVIEW

Neil Redfearn.
Neil Redfearn.
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Neil Redfearn is set to remain as reserve-team and under-18s coach at Leeds United when the club appoint their new academy manager in the coming weeks.

Redfearn revealed that he had ruled himself out of the running to take full control of United’s youth team operations but expects to retain his current duties under a changed regime at Thorp Arch.

The 45-year-old avoided the cull which saw former academy manager Neil Thompson and assistant Daral Pugh dismissed from their posts in October and will continue to handle United’s most prominent youth team squad once a replacement for Thompson is chosen by the Championship club.

United sacked Thompson due to concerns over the dwindling flow of players from United’s academy to their first-team squad and he left his job with Leeds’ under-18s lodged at the bottom of their Premier Academy League with one point from 10 matches and a goal difference of minus 24.

But Redfearn claimed his players have “turned the corner” in the weeks and months since Leeds instigated a major overhaul of their academy, culminating in a convincing performance in Tuesday night’s FA Youth Cup tie against Aston Villa.

Leeds threatened to eliminate last season’s beaten finalists in the fifth round, hitting the crossbar and bemoaning the failure of referee Jeremy Simpson to award a penalty while the game was goalless in the second half.

And Redfearn said the display in a 2-0 defeat was indicative of a sustained improvement amongst the club’s under-18s.

New leadership for United’s academy is likely to be in place before the beginning of March, though the timing of an appointment is dependent upon the short-term availability of the successful candidate.

Redfearn, who was appointed under-18s coach at the start of 2009 and who took temporary control of Leeds’ reserves in the wake of Thompson’s departure, did not apply for the vacancy.

“I didn’t want the academy manager’s job and I made that clear from the start,” he said. “All I want to do is coach. I want to look after the under-18s and to run the reserves and the manager (first-team boss Simon Grayson) wants me to do that too. I’m more than happy.

“The academy is now getting tweaked around and sometimes that has to happen. But I love this job and I’ve really enjoyed stepping up to the reserves as well. As far as the under-18s are concerned, I honestly think they’ve turned the corner.

“The club obviously recognised that a few things needed to change. I think they probably made the right decision.

“It doesn’t always follow suit that you’ll churn first-team players out year after year but they clearly want to make sure that we’re doing as much as we possibly can – more than we are at the moment.

“There hasn’t been as much talent coming through as in the past but Leeds United aren’t a Premier League club any more.

“These things do go hand in hand. The higher up the leagues your are, the easier it is to pull good kids in. The club are trying to build again, though and performances like this (against Villa on Tuesday night) show that there’s some potential here.”

A tie at home to Villa was as difficult a draw as Leeds were likely to receive in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup.

Goals in the last seven minutes from Callum Robinson and Graham Burke saw Villa through to a quarter-final meeting with Middlesbrough after an eventful second half at Elland Road.

But this season was the first in many years that United have made more than a faint impression on a competition they won twice in the 1990s.

The FA Youth Cup is among the most prestigious of trophies on offer to under-18 squads in England but greater satisfaction for Redfearn and United’s chairman Ken Bates came from the sequence of five wins from six competitive matches which carried Leeds into the Villa tie.

Bates said: “As people know, we weren’t very happy with the situation at the academy. The conveyer belt had slowed down and at one time we were bottom of the under-18 league which was nothing short of a disgrace.

“But it’s turning around now and to lose to a strong Aston Villa side is no disgrace. The team are on a good run and it seems that happy times are back again. I’m very pleased about that because the academy is our tomorrow.”

Redfearn was aggrieved by United’s defeat to Villa after Simpson overlooked a foul on left-back Charlie Taylor midway through the second half at Elland Road. Taylor was cautioned instead for diving, denying Leeds the chance to exploit a period of dominance.

But Redfearn said: “We were excellent and we executed our game plan really well. The players frustrated Villa and in the second half they (Villa) ran out of ideas.

“We created the better chances and looked more like scoring. The penalty was a stonewaller.

“A lot’s been said about the academy but I really think these kids deserve a lot of credit. At the beginning of the season we lost a lot of games on the bounce. We were struggling, at the foot of the table and the players were down.

“But if you looked at the bigger picture, the squad was young with a lot of first-year scholars in it. There weren’t many pros around to help us out.

“I have worked tirelessly with them, doing extra sessions in the afternoon and trying to give them confidence. The thing with kids is that you’ve got to be prepared to stick with it and give them time.

“But they’re starting to believe in themselves a bit more and this performance should make them see what they’ve got. No disrespect to Villa but they were nothing to be scared of.

“When we forced the tempo it caused them a problem. Maybe these lads don’t quite know what they’re capable of yet.”

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