Leeds United youngster Dominic Poleon has been told that a successful career at Elland Road or at any other major English club will depend on a fundamental change in his attitude.
The 19-year-old striker, who caught the eye as a substitute in Leeds’ 3-2 defeat to Hull City on Tuesday, faces “big decisions” over his future as a professional footballer this season, according to United manager Neil Warnock.
Warnock said he was actively working to improve Poleon’s attitude and application after warming to the forward’s talent.
The Leeds boss believes Poleon has the potential to “become a top player” but said he risked his career “fizzling out” without a shift in his work rate and his approach to the game.
Warnock said: “Dominic knows what I think about him and he’s got big decisions to make in the next 12 months.
“He could have a very good career or he could fizzle out playing in the lower divisions or in non league. It’s up to him.
“He has things in his locker that you can’t coach or train but he’s also got things in his locker which you have to change if you want to become a top player. That’s what I’ve been talking to him about for the past few weeks.”
Poleon is a recent graduate from United’s academy at Thorp Arch, though he originally came to Leeds from Southend United’s youth-team system in 2010.
After finishing last season as the leading scorer with United’s under-18s squad, Poleon signed his first senior contract – a one-year deal – and was among the most prominent of the young professionals used during Warnock’s pre-season programme.
Poleon made his first-team debut in Leeds’ Capital One Cup win over Shrewsbury Town on August 11 and earned the appreciation of the crowd at Elland Road with his short outing against Hull on Tuesday.
Warnock likened Poleon’s situation to that which faced a young Victor Moses while United’s boss was manager of Crystal Palace. Moses made his league debut under Warnock in 2007 and has since earned transfers to Wigan Athletic and Chelsea for combined fees of more than £10m.
Warnock said: “I remember Victor in a similar situation. He didn’t think working hard was part of the criteria for a young player. He thought just doing it when you got the ball was sufficient, but look at him now.
“Victor had a big decision to make – did he want to start working for his team-mates and end up at a club like Chelsea or go by-the-by and end up at a bottom club?
“In fairness to him, Victor rings and texts me quite a lot and still thanks me for what I did. He wouldn’t be where he is now without those lectures – he’d have gone by the wayside.
“It’s not been Dominic’s ability which has been in question. It’s been his attitude at times.
“But I hope the other night (his appearance against Hull) will be a springboard for him.”
Poleon’s emergence has helped Warnock to fill a bench which would otherwise be lacking in attacking substitutes.
The United manager has 34-year-old Andy Gray in his squad – Gray scored his first goal for Leeds with a late header in Tuesday’s defeat to Hull – but he is largely devoid of spare strikers.
Despite turning to the loan market after Ross McCormack injured his ankle ligaments last weekend, Warnock was unable to find a replacement before either the derby with Hull or today’s Championship game against Nottingham Forest.
Leeds have one potential card up their sleeve in Davide Somma, the South African international who has been fighting a knee injury for more than a year.
Somma thrived in his first full season as a regular player at Elland Road, scoring 12 goals, but his last appearance came on the final day of the 2010-11 term.
He has undergone two operations on his injured knee and is currently without a squad number at Elland Road due to the length of his absence and prolonged uncertainty about the timing of his comeback. Warnock suggested that the 27-year-old could return to full training in a fortnight’s time, with a view to appearing in a competitive fixture – possibly a Development League game – within a month.
“He’s doing a little bit more training now, not just straight line running,” Warnock said.
“But it’s like anything – when you’ve not got (a striker) and you’re desperate for one, you only think of the good things about him.
“You don’t think that he hasn’t played for God-knows how long or how unfit he’ll be, irrespective of the training he’s done.
“I’ve got to be careful or the expectations on him will be massive but it would be great to have him in the squad, even on the bench for a 25-minute cameo – something to change a game, which I believe he can do.
“But I’ve not even thought about that yet. I asked about him two weeks ago and was told it was going to be four weeks before he started full training,
“By that reckoning it should be another four weeks before he’s having some sort of a game.”
Somma was the victim of a knee ligament injury suffered at the start of United’s pre-season schedule in 2011.
He was expected to return before the end of last season but went for another operation in the spring after failing to complete his recovery.
Warnock said: “As frustrating as it is I’ve got to make sure that Davide is right.
“What I don’t want is to wait in anticipation and then lose him again for another six months.
“But we’ll get Davide back – sooner rather than later hopefully.”
Meanwhile, former Leeds winger Max Gradel has given rise to speculation about his future by hinting that he would be happy to return to Elland Road if the club offered to sign him.
Gradel, United’s player of the year for the 2010-11 campaign, was sold to Saint Etienne for around £2m last season and is still on the books of the French club.
But writing on Twitter, Gradel said: “If the leeds fans really want me back then they need to let the club know.”