LEWIS COOK has played down fears over his workload and is aiming to ‘step up to the plate’ with England Under- 19s as he seeks to apply gloss to a glorious 2014-15 with Leeds United.
The prodigiously-talented midfielder is currently in France with the England Under-19s squad ahead of their trio of European Championship Elite Round qualifiers against the host nation, Denmark and Azerbaijan.
England start out with a game against the Danes tomorrow tea-time (5pm) in the Stade Henry Jeanne in Bayeaux.
England’s prize for coming out top after three matches will be a place at the European Championships in Greece this July – with Cook eyeing a leading role in clinching qualification after his maiden Under-19s call-up.
Cook, who only turned 18 in early February, has made 38 appearances for Leeds since August and joined up with the England party after playing three games in a week for United.
Neil Redfearn has spoken with England Under-21 supremo Gareth Southgate about managing the game-time of Cook and also Alex Mowatt, on Under-20 duty during the international break.
While Cook has had a hectic first campaign of regular first-team football, he feels it has benefited him massively and is excited by testing himself further following his international upgrade.
Cook said: “It’s been good for me personally this season in playing a lot of games.
“Coming back to England is different to the Championship. There’s a lot of technical and really good players there and you have to step up to the plate and adapt to the different type of football at international level.
“It’s the first time I have been involved with the Under-19s and from the first training sessions I have been involved in, I can see the staff and the players here are really good.
“We have a great opportunity, with the lads we have got, to do well in the tournament (finals). Hopefully that will happen if we keep working hard in training and get our tactics right.”
Confident that his familiarity with the youth set-ups will aid in his acclimatisation at Under-19 level, he added: “It is similar to the way people do things there (in the Under-18s and
Under-17s); it is just getting to know the lads, that is the hardest bit.
“Once you get to know them, it is fine and the group dynamic is really good.
“We have got to do that on the pitch and off the pitch. That will win us the games and see us progress in the tournament.”
Cook helped England Under-17s to glory at last May’s European Under-17s Championships in Malta when they beat Holland on penalties last and is hoping that a year that has gone beyond his wildest dreams will continue with him helping the Under-19s qualify for the summer finals – and hopefully playing a part in Greece.
He said: “Last year was personally good for me, with some of the lads with me again too. The experience was great and I could not describe it any better; winning the tournament.
“It was a great feeling. Hopefully we can do it again.
“It (winning) breeds confidence throughout the whole England team. When you win something, hopefully other age groups can do the same. It’s good to pass on that experience from that group to this.
“It also pulls us altogether, the whole England group and hopefully we can get more wins.”
After tomorrow’s game with the Danes, the U19s, coached by former Doncaster Rovers manager Sean O’Driscoll, will take on Azerbaijan in Bayeaux on Saturday (5.30pm) before playing France at the Stade Louis Villemer, Saint-Lo on Tuesday (6pm).
Meanwhile, Cook’s team-mate Mowatt, 20, is eyeing his maiden appearance this evening for England Under-20s, who will be attempting to extend their unbeaten seasonal run to seven matches in a friendly against Mexico at Barnet FC (7.45pm).
The Under-20s side, managed by ex-Leeds first-team coach Aidy Boothroyd, play another friendly on Sunday against the USA at Home Park, Plymouth (3pm).
Doncaster-born Mowatt has been in outstanding form for United this term and has netted eight goals in 31 appearances in all competitions in 2014-15.