Leeds United: We were the right players at wrong time - Couzens

Andy Couzens
Andy Couzens
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Former United FA Youth Cup winner Andy Couzens hopes the Class of 2015 can make a bigger impact on the club than the boys of ’93. Lee Sobot reports.

ANDY Couzens made 36 first team appearances for Leeds United – yet as far as memories go the 1993 FA Youth Cup final takes some topping.

The midfielder was part of a Whites side that downed a Manchester United outfit featuring David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and both Neville brothers.

It’s no wonder he says the Leeds ‘class of 1993’ was a different breed to the club’s much-vaunted crop of 2015.

Yet future true Whites stardom by and large deserted the members of that 1993 team with Couzens hoping learning the ropes in the Championship will lead to a different conclusion for United’s stars of today.

Couzens, 39, was 17 when helping the Whites youth team sink the old enemy over two legs at Old Trafford and Elland Road and the midfielder looked set for a long and successful career with Leeds.

The same looked true of fellow FA Youth Cup finalists Noel Whelan, Jamie Forrester, Mark Tinkler, Kevin Sharp and Mark Ford to name but five.

But Couzens would go on to make only 36 appearances in five years at Leeds and, of the 1993 FA Youth Cup winners, Whelan went on to make the most Whites appearances with 59, only five more than Alex Mowatt has made for Leeds already, albeit at a different level.

And Couzens thinks United’s modern day crop still have their best days very much ahead of them with the Shipley-born ace believing Mowatt, Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor are better off learning their trade in the Championship than being thrown straight into the lion’s den of the Premier.

Couzens told the YEP: “You look at the young Leeds team now and you see a lot of people talking on Twitter saying this is the best team they have seen for however long and stuff.

“People forget about the youth team that we played in and we were playing against better players, against stronger teams, week in, week out.

“We played in the Premier League with some top, top players – Gary Speed, David Batty, Gary McAllister, Tony Yeboah. We all made our debuts in the first team at a similar age – 18/19 years old playing against your Vieras and the Roy Keanes – possibly the best ever midfielders in the Premier League. But I think we were possibly pushed a little bit early to be in the team and I think the good thing with the lads now is that they are getting the opportunity to play in the first team in the Championship.

“I think they would be bit-part players if they were in the Premier League at the moment and you can’t beat playing in the first team. You look at the Premier now and it’s hugely strong and totally different to the Championship, it’s massively different in all honestly. But I think they are getting there and the four lads in particular who are in the first team now have taken their opportunities and all that can do is make them develop. Hopefully, they can help get Leeds back into that Premier.”

Leeds were a Premier team throughout Couzens’ four years as a pro’ at Leeds but just three years after leaving Elland Road for Carlisle and then Blackpool his career as a pro footballer was over. After suffering additional frustration with injuries, Couzens called a halt to his playing days aged 25 and later set up a new business as a personal trainer. Nevertheless, there is no hiding his satisfaction at his time with Leeds. Couzens said: “For us at Leeds it was a case of wrong place wrong time with managers and so on and it just didn’t happen for us. But nobody can ever take it away from you and you have done something that every boy and every kid wants to do. It was a great honour to play for such a big club, as a fan and as a player.”

Eighteen years have passed since Couzens’ last game for Leeds but he remains a regular at Elland Road, be it as a fan or a pundit for Made In Leeds or Radio Yorkshire. Married to Julia, the former Leeds prospect’s personal training business at Hollins Hall Health and Fitness Centre near hometown Baildon continues to go from strength to strength and he and two pals are now embarking on setting up corporate golf days for JBA Golf.

Now all Couzens wants is for United’s class of 2015 to tee themselves up for the perfect future with Leeds United in the Premier. He said: “I want every person who is down there at Leeds to succeed because I am a fan. I want these youngsters to go on and do what Fabian Delph’s done – but I want them to do it with Leeds.”