Leeds United: Imperative we hang on to young stars – Lorimer

Alex Mowatt celebrates with Sol Bamba.
Alex Mowatt celebrates with Sol Bamba.
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It’s impossible to say which of Leeds United’s young players will go on to have the best career.

We’ve seen it all before: kids who look like world-beaters but fail to fulfil their potential and others who start slowly before turning into stars.

Mowatt’s form is an example of the improvements players make if they’re allowed to grow.

The four lads in our starting line-up at the moment have everything at their feet. They’re making the headlines and they’re pushing each other to a higher and higher standard. As we approach the run-in, no-one’s doing more for the club’s season than Alex Mowatt.

Mowatt’s talent speaks for itself but he’s gone under the radar a bit this season. He’s a familiar face after his breakthrough 18 months ago and it’s the way of the world that attention focuses on the new kid on the block.

We’ve seen Charlie Taylor’s debut and, more specifically, we’ve seen a very young and skilful lad in Lewis Cook come to the fore.

You can’t fail to be impressed by Cook’s poise and his quick feet but if you watch him and Mowatt side by side in midfield, it’s clear to see which of them has more experience.

I’m not about to start criticising Cook but he’s still in that stage where, in amongst his really good play, passes go astray and he dribbles his way into trouble. Mowatt is better at picking passes and better at playing in the right areas and at the right times. That simply comes from time on the field and he’s already closing in on 100 appearances for the club.

When I look at Mowatt now I see a proven Championship player. He’s still young and he’s still got room for improvement but he’s not feeling his way through games like he was at times last season. Physically he’s strong and competitive and his finishing is outstanding. He’s scored some stunning goals from open play but he’s also got the nerve and the composure to stand over a free-kick and stick it in the top corner. Very little seems to faze him.

We’ve been lucky to get a flurry of goals from him because goalscoring hasn’t been our forte. Mirco Antenucci had a good run early on in the season but it’s a long time since he last found the net and he’s struggling to get a game at the moment.

Successful sides need prolific players up front but they also need a weight of goals from midfield. That’s actually been a problem at Leeds for a while.

Mowatt’s gaining confidence in front of goal and I expect him to go past 10 before long. He’s in that frame of mind where any time he finds himself with a chance, he’s going to have a go – and he’ll back himself to score.

Understandably I hear a lot of worried talk about the interest these kids will be generating among other clubs.

You can assume that they’re generating plenty. Brendan Rodgers was at the game against Wigan on Saturday and I spoke with him there. He didn’t mention any of our youngsters or talk about bidding for them, and obviously Sheyi Ojo is on loan at Wigan from Liverpool.

But you can’t tell me that Rodgers used a rare day off purely to watch a player he probably knows well already. He’ll have a had a good look at our kids and quite frankly, why wouldn’t he?

They’re making headlines and they’re showing huge amounts of promise.

At this time of year, with the summer coming, clubs start to think about future plans. For me, the biggest worry would be Sam Byram. He’s got a lot of football behind him now and I reckon Premier League clubs would see him as the one most suited to stepping straight into a top-flight side.

Cook and Taylor need more games behind them and Mowatt is just starting to look like he’s 100 per cent acclimatised.

But if Leeds are going to go anywhere as a club, these lads have got to stay. It’s imperative.

I’m not saying that other players haven’t had decent seasons.

Luke Murphy’s been good, Steve Morison’s put in a great effort alone up front and guys like Antenucci and Marco Silvestri have had impressive spells.

But this has been a year of worry in the main and the shining lights have been the four young boys.

Build on them and we can go somewhere. Lose them and it would be like ripping everything up and starting from scratch again.

Mowatt’s form is an example of the improvements players make if they’re allowed to grow.