Leeds United: Whites’ academy spine is still intact – as promised

Lewis Cook.
Lewis Cook.
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Leeds United promised at the end of last season that the spine of academy players in their team would remain intact and to date the club have kept their word. While work goes on to find a way of severing the contracts held by Nicky Ajose and Steve Morison, most of the squad at Elland Road have been left in peace.

Leeds killed speculation about Lewis Cook’s future by extending the midfielder’s deal in May and the club were confident that Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt would avoid undue attention during this transfer window. The only question mark hung over Sam Byram, the able 21-year-old who is shaping up to be Uwe Rosler’s right winger.

Byram is the least protected of United’s prominent youngsters, tied to a contract which expires next June. At this stage, with a month of the summer window remaining, he is the one player who Leeds could find themselves fighting to keep. Other than Sheffield United’s bid for Billy Sharp, offers for players at Elland Road have not been rife.

Newcastle United and Everton, who Leeds play in a friendly tomorrow, are among the clubs monitoring Byram but United look increasingly inclined to fend off interest in him before the transfer deadline on September 1.

Byram is an integral part of Rosler’s line-up and system and the player who has drawn most praise from Leeds’ head coach since pre-season began. During the club’s tour of Austria, Rosler went so far as talking about Byram aiming for the England squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Speaking after United’s friendly defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, a game staged in 35 degree heat, Rosler said: “I told Sam before the game ‘you want to be playing in this heat for your country in Qatar.’ That’s what he should be aiming for.” Byram’s contractual position is not the concern it would be if the youngster was 24. Even if he chose to leave Elland Road at the end of his current deal, Leeds would be entitled to a fee in compensation as Burnley are with striker Danny Ings.

United opened talks about a new contract with Byram’s representatives before Christmas but negotiations involving owner Massimo Cellino ended abruptly and fractiously. As with the recent contract accepted by midfielder Luke Murphy, Leeds are understood to have asked Byram to take a lengthy extension to his deal while agreeing to reduce his weekly wage. The two sides did not find middle ground.

Byram, nonetheless, was central to the run-in last season and is filling one side of Rosler’s attack in a squad with no out-and-out wingers. He is not believed to be looking for a move away from Leeds and speaking last month Rosler said: “Mr Cellino has told me we don’t need to sell. There are no plans whatsoever to sell one of our young talented players.

“Sam is as good as gold. He works extremely hard, he’s playing very well and he has a contract with us.”

Rosler indicated that Byram was being primed for an attacking role after Leeds’ 1-1 draw at York City and left him on the right wing for games against Frankfurt and Hoffenheim in Austria and Norway.

Byram is set to play there against Everton at Elland Road tomorrow as Rosler takes a last look at his squad before the first game of the Championship season.

The German is expected to field something approaching his strongest side, with Lewis Cook aiming to be involved after injuring a toe against Hoffenheim. What Rosler does on the left side of his three-man attack remains to be seen but of all the players used in that position, Frenchman Souleymane Doukara impressed him most.

With the new season drawing near, a number of players were given a run-out in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Notts County at Thorp Arch on Wednesday afternoon. Mirco Antenucci and Scott Wootton scored as Leeds claimed a 2-0 win.

United, meanwhile, have been handed another televised match after their derby at Huddersfield Town on Saturday, November 7 was chosen for live broadcast by Sky Sports. The match will kick off at 12.30pm.