Neil Redfearn has challenged Leeds United to fight off interest in their young players this summer, saying: “If we mean business we’ll keep them.”
United’s head coach said speculation about potential bids for the academy products in his first team would “only be a worry” if Leeds decided to court interested clubs.
Redfearn is unclear about his future at Elland Road, approaching the end of a deal which the club are yet to renew, but he said his determination to see United’s prospects remain at Elland Road was unaffected by the doubts over his own job.
Sam Byram, Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt have been prominent figures in United’s line-up this season and another youth-team graduate, 19-year-old Kalvin Phillips, made his debut at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday.
Byram was reported to be the subject of attention from Liverpool this week and a member of Hull City’s scouting team watched Mowatt’s goalscoring performance in a 4-3 defeat to Wolves.
The absence from Leeds of banned owner Massimo Cellino and persistent rumours of another takeover at Elland Road have raised concerns that United might be vulnerable to offers.
Cook and Byram are out of contract next summer while Mowatt and Taylor have two years to run on their deals. Phillips signed his first professional deal 12 months ago.
But Redfearn said: “It’s only a worry if something happens. You’re always going to get speculation because they’ve been brilliant.
“I’d like to think that, if the message has always been that we’re planning and building, we keep these players. You don’t sell your best players. If we really mean what we mean - if we really mean business and if we are going to get promoted - you don’t sell your better players. You keep them.”
Redfearn worked with all five of the youngsters during his time as a coach in Leeds’ academy between 2009 and November of last year.
The 49-year-old said assumptions that persistent uncertainty at United - a club who suspended his assistant, Steve Thompson, last week - might tempt players to seek a transfer elsewhere were “misjudging the situation.”
“They misread the strength of feeling at this club and the strength of feeling amongst the players - the bond between the players and the fans,” Redfearn said. “People misread that.
“It is important and for the first time in a long time, this club is actually quite together on the pitch and in the stands. It’s been drawn together. Long may that continue.
“Having been in (the first team), found their feet and proved what they’re capable of, they want to part of this. You can see that. You tend to forget that some of these kids have been here since they were eight years old. They’ve been brought up on Leeds United.
“Football’s not straightforward but they’re very close as a group and I think it would be a real wrench for them to leave. So with that in mind, you hope they make the right decisions.”
The development of United’s young core has been a positive aspect of a season riddled with controversy and disruption. Cellino’s Football League suspension - imposed following his conviction for tax evasion last March - does not end until May 4.
Redfearn’s future has been the subject of constant attention recently but speaking ahead of Saturday’s match with Cardiff City, the Leeds boss said: “I don’t want to start talking about all that.
“I‘ve stated that it’s important I finish the season off, for the club and the players. I’ve then got to sit down with the powers that be and discuss it.”