FORMER LEEDS United striker Noel Whelan has stressed the importance of the club keeping hold of star turns Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Sam Byram - and warding off any Premier League advances.
According to national reports, Everton and Aston Villa are tracking teenage midfielder Mowatt, called up to the England under-20 squad last week.
Byram has been regularly linked with a host of top-flight clubs since bursting onto the scene in 2012-13 and after an injury-hit 2013-14, the right-back is getting back to the form which saw him swept the board at the club’s end-of-season awards night in May 2013.
Cook, 17, has also been propelled to prominence and revealed in an interview in September that his goal is to play in the Premier League, with several other talents such as Chris Dawson and Charlie Taylor also waiting to make their mark.
In a similar way to Mowatt, Cook and Byram, Whelan was thrust into the first-team limelight with Leeds as a teenager in the early to mid 1990s, having rose to prominence during the Whites’ victorious march to FA Youth Cup glory at the expense of a much-vaunted Manchester United side in May 1993.
After Saturday’s game against Blackpool, United head coach Neil Redfearn spoke glowingly about the current crop of young talents at Elland Road, venturing that they could become the club’s own version of the ‘Class of 92’ at Old Trafford, who may have been beaten by Leeds in that Youth Cup final, but whose leading lights went onto become household names in football.
Whelan, the only member of Leeds’ 92-3 youth side to truly make it at top-flight level with Leeds, is confident United’s current crop of youngsters have the ability to step up into the top-flight, given time - and is pinning his hopes on them achieving their aspirations with the club.
Whelan said: “For their development - and Neil (Redfearn) would agree with me - they are at the best club to develop as players and progress and we need to keep hold of them.
“They have got their chance and are in the first team and keeping their spots and becoming better and better under Neil and the players around them. So why would you want to move anywhere else?
“There were times in my career where bigger clubs had come in for me and I turned them down because I knew my football was good where it was and I trusted my manager, who was Gordon Strachan at the time.
“They are at the best place right now at their stage of their career to go on and get better and better and get the experience and confidence they need. “Hopefully during that time, Leeds will get to the Premier League and they will not need to look anywhere else.
“I think they are at the biggest club in the world, but that’s me; I am biased!”
FA YOUTH CUP 1992-93 STATISTICS
First leg, Monday, May 10, 1993: Manchester United 0 Leeds United 2 (Forrester, Whelan). Attendance: 30,562.
Manchester United: Whitmarsh; O’Kane, Riley, Casper, G. Neville; Gillespie, Butt, Beckham (Savage), Irving (Murdoch); Scholes, Thornley.
Leeds United: Pettinger; Couzens, Sharp; Tinkler, Daly, Bowman; Smithard, Ford, Whelan, Oliver, Forrester.
Second leg, Thursday, May 13, 1993: Leeds United 2 (Forrester, Smithard) Manchester United 1 (Scholes pen). Attendance: 31,037. Leeds won 4-1 on aggregate.
Leeds United: Pettinger; Couzens, Sharp; Tinkler, Daly, Bowman (Tobin); Smithard, Ford, Whelan, Oliver (Byrne), Forrester.
Manchester United: Whitmarsh, P. Neville, Riley, Casper, G.Neville; Gillespie, Scholes, Beckham, Irving (Murdoch); Savage, Thornley.