Neil Redfearn described Lewis Cook as the “best player on the pitch by a mile” after a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest and warned rival clubs that Leeds United would not welcome any bids for the 17-year-old when the January transfer window opens.
Cook’s mature performance was the stand-out display in a tight game at the City Ground on Saturday and Redfearn believes the teenager is set for a long-term career at Elland Road, saying: “He’s a Leeds lad and he wants to play for this club.”
The England youth international – part of the international squad who won the European Under-17 Championship earlier this year – is halfway through his first season as a senior player at United and has consistently met the standards of the Championship.
His contribution at Forest helped Leeds ride their luck and claim a precious point away from home on an evening when Forest saw two legitimate goals from striker Matty Fryatt ruled out for offside.
Cook, who came through United’s academy at Thorp Arch, is under contract at Leeds until 2016 and has rapidly become one of the most valuable members of Redfearn’s squad, despite his young age.
Asked if he was worried about approaches for Cook in the January transfer window, Redfearn said: “If we’re going to be great again, if we’re going to be successful again and climb the table, then we’ve got to keep these lads.
“That’s what football’s about – keeping your top players and your top young players and then adding to the squad.
“You don’t ever want to let good players go.
“He was the best player on the pitch by a mile and you have to remember sometimes that the guy’s only 17 years old.
“I look at him and see this maturity. His touch and his awareness is there for everyone to see. He’s going to get better and the good thing is he’s a Leeds lad. He wants to play for this club.”
United are planning signings of their own next month after a difficult first half of the season but the result in Nottingham on Saturday moved them six points clear of the Championship’s relegation zone ahead of a meeting with 23rd-placed Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day.
Leeds have been troubled by poor away form all season, winning only one of 11 fixtures, but a Billy Sharp penalty on 54 minutes cancelled out a goal from Fryatt seconds before half-time, securing a valuable point.
Redfearn said: “The home form we’re getting right.
“We’ve been picking up points at home and the performances have been good but I have to say that the performances away from home have been getting better as a whole, without us getting results. There was a resilience about us (at Forest) and a will to get something.
“In the end the point was richly deserved. We needed a performance like that and a bit of belief.”
Midfielder Rodolph Austin and defender Giuseppe Bellusci missed United’s trip to Nottingham with minor injuries but both players are due to return for Friday’s meeting with Wigan at Elland Road. Austin underwent fitness work at Thorp Arch on Saturday and is all but recovered from his ankle injury.
Summer signing Bellusci is also close to overcoming a hamstring strain and should resume full training ahead of the clash with Wigan.
Sharp, meanwhile, left the field with cramp midway through the second half at Forest but is not carrying an injury. “Rudy could possibly have been on the bench but I thought it was right for him to get a bit more training under his belt,” Redfearn said.
“It would have been wrong for me to put him in a position where there was some doubt about him.
“Giuseppe will probably go back into full training this week so he’s on the mend too.”