It’s a familiar feeling around Elland Road this preseason; a quiet feeling of optimism, but the refusal to get too excited based on similar feelings before previous, anticlimactic seasons. The appointment of Garry Monk, a young, proven, talented, British manager, got the interest of the fans up; the signings of Marcus Antonsson, Kyle Bartley, Hadi Sacko, Rob Green, Matt Grimes and Kemar Roofe signalled real reason for excitement. Finally, it would appear that Leeds are establishing a strong squad, with a mixture of youth and experience, with the real potential to push for promotion.
Indeed, goals for Sacko and Antonsson, along with current number nine Chris Wood, and promising performances from Antonsson and Kemar Roofe in particular during two friendly matches in Ireland, indicates that the squad are coming together, and Leeds fans finally have reason to go with their optimistic feelings – apart from one drawback. The sale of 19 year old midfielder Lewis Cook to Bournemouth.
It’s a story that is told far too many times around West Yorkshire. A young, promising, local talent breaking through into the first team and becomes the vital cog in the starting XI, the player who the future should be built around; instead, they are sold. The examples of Fabian Delph and Jonny Howson spring to mind.
But for many fans, the sale of Cook stings more than previous examples; with the long, drawn-out exit of Sam Byram to West Ham in January still fresh, Cook’s transfer feels all the more painful. But it’s hard to blame the young man for leaving; he has the opportunity to prove himself in the Premier League, and to work with Eddie Howe, regarded by many as the best young manager in the game. Furthermore, it is widely agreed that Howe will manage England in the next ten years; if Cook is thinking of his international career, he could do much worse than work hard for the potential future England manager now, and earn his respect early. This could stand him in good stead for when Howe eventually does take over as manager of his country; Cook could realistically be at the prime of his career, and be a shoe-horn into Howe’s squads, if he isn’t in the set-up already.
It isn’t the feeling that Cook is going sideways or backwards in his career that frustrates Leeds fans, nor is it the £6m-rising transfer fee. It is more the sense of inevitability that surrounds the young academy graduates leaving, when many feel they should be the spine of the team. When Byram finally completed his move to West Ham, it was a case of when, rather than if; this should not be the case with talented, home-grown young players.
What is even more concerning for Leeds fans is young left back Charlie Taylor entering the final year of his contract. There is a worrying sense of déjà vu, as many parallels can be drawn between this and Sam Byram twelve months ago; given the club’s lack of ambition to keep the young talent, who could blame Taylor if he chose to look elsewhere?
So whilst the sale of Cook, and the future of Taylor, are concerning for Leeds fans, they must try to focus on their reasons to be positive; Garry Monk appears to be building a strong squad that looks very capable within the Championship, and may well bring through some more talented young players into the first-team setup. Perhaps, following the sale of Cook, there will be more of a role for Kalvin Phillips to stake his claim to a place in the midfield. Or perhaps the role will fall to young Ronaldo Vieira, whose name alone has excited the Elland Road faithful. But if it is the 17 year old Vieira who is the breakthrough act this season at Elland Road, he will need to replicate the midfield dynamism and tenacity of his namesake who dominated the Arsenal midfield, if he is going to fill the gap left by Cook’s absence.