Neil Redfearn described Lewis Cook as “the best academy player I’ve ever seen” as he urged Leeds United to tie the 17-year-old to a longer contract at Elland Road.
Redfearn said the retention of Cook, whose existing deal runs to 2016, should be an essential part of United’s future plans after the midfielder stole the show in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Championship leaders Bournemouth.
Leeds are understood to have opened negotiations with Cook about an extension of his contract and the youngster’s value is increasing rapidly on the strength of his maiden season as a first-team player.
Cook made his breakthrough from the academy in August, three months after featuring in England’s European Under-17 Championship-winning squad, and he has been heavily used by Redfearn since the 49-year-old took over as head coach.
Redfearn oversaw Cook’s development during his time in charge of Leeds’ youth-team system – a job the 49-year-old gave up to take control of the senior side in November – and he admitted that the teenager’s talent exceeded that of any other junior footballer he had worked with.
“He’s the best I’ve seen by a mile,” Redfearn said. “If we’re going to be successful and get to the Premier League, we’ve got to keep Lewis Cook. It’s as simple as that.
“You forget he’s 17 years old but what an immense talent he is. He’s got this presence, this power and this drive about him and the kid can play. His best position is where he can dictate and he dictated that game (on Tuesday). He was the best player on the pitch.”
Cook was named in England’s Under-18 squad before Christmas and Sean O’Driscoll, the current England Under-19 coach, attended last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City.
The midfielder has started 21 league games this season – more than all but two other outfield players at Leeds – and United are relying heavily on their academy products, with Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor also established in the club’s line-up.
Cook shone throughout Tuesday’s win over Bournemouth, a crucial result which put six points between Leeds and the Championship’s relegation places.
“He’s a great kid and he doesn’t miss anything with his education or his scholarship,” Redfearn said. “He’s still collecting the (training) mannequins because it’s part of his scholar duties. Then he goes out there and plays like that.”
Discussions with Cook’s representatives about a new deal are likely to continue during the second half of the campaign, despite Massimo Cellino’s ban as owner of Leeds.
Cellino was formally barred by the Football League after losing an appeal against his disqualification on Monday. The 58-year-old was given 48 hours – until noon yesterday – to resign as a director at Elland Road but United are yet to officially announce his departure from the board.
The ex-Cagliari president is subject to a short-term suspension which ends on April 10 and Leeds are expected to complete a number of new signings before their next game at Huddersfield Town on January 31.