The 18-year-old impressed hugely in his first full season at Elland Road – and Jamie Kemp says a repeat could make him almost impossible to keep hold of...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: February 3, 1997
- Place of birth: York, England
- Height: 5ft 9in
- Position: Central midfield
- Club: Leeds (40 apps, 0 goals)
- International: England U19 (1 cap, 0 goals)
Lewis Cook was identified as one of the club’s most prized assets long before he made his first-team debut last year.
The York-born central midfielder – a well-cultivated footballing hotspot for Leeds United academy recruits – hails from the same setup that has spawned midfielders like James Milner and Fabian Delph since the turn of the millennium. Understandably, those who are given the nod to cross the youth-senior divide at Elland Road come well regarded.
Yet after 37 Championship appearances in his debut season – 33 of them starts – Cook’s maiden year was talked about in a higher regard than both of the aforementioned names. The tangible recognition arrived in force: Cook was named the Championship's Apprentice of the Year in April, Leeds' Young Player of the Year by the Yorkshire Evening Post in May and, later on that month, the runner-up to Alex Mowatt as the club's official player of the year.
Success at domestic level also materialised on a national one with the England U17s. Selected by manager John Peacock to partner Everton youngster (and captain) Ryan Ledson in midfield at the 2014 European Championship, Cook proved to be one of the standout performers en route to the Young Lions’ success.
All of this brings us to the present day, where Cook is now an absolute staple of the Leeds starting XI. As he approaches his half-century of senior appearances fewer than seven months after his 18th birthday, it’s becoming near impossible for the Yorkshire club to keep his talents on the lowdown.
Why you need to know him
Sheepish Leeds fans have seen just about every big Premier League team linked with a move for Cook over the summer. And his recent contract extension until 2016 still does little to allay fears of an impending exit, even when the player himself insisted he "didn’t know why" people thought he would leave.
Cook’s contribution in England’s youth European Championship win would also pinpoint him as a player destined for the top level. Joe Gomez and Patrick Roberts, now of Liverpool and Manchester City respectively, were just two members of that team who have since been granted an opportunity in the Premier League. Other major contributors like Chelsea pair Izzy Brown and Dom Solanke – both on loan at Vitesse this season – as well as Everton’s Ledson are also getting their feet wet in top European leagues.
The youngster is your English midfield prototype in many ways. Schooled in the north of the country, where the less glamorous side of the game has been an eternal hallmark, Cook is no different to his predecessors; his aggression, enthusiasm and affinity for engaging in a battle is plain to see, despite clocking in at 5ft 9in.
His recent contract extension until 2016 still does little to allay fears of an impending exit
Like all good midfielders, however, it’s a combination of many different things which make Cook one of the most promising English midfielders of his generation. While skilled in winning the ball back, the teenager is equally impressive in his subsequent distribution of it. Whether it be short, incisive passes in the busiest areas of the pitch, or longer, sprayed distribution to find encroaching full-backs and advanced wide players, Cook’s authority on the ball has belied his years from the off at Elland Road.
I have a lot of trust in the young players here. It is a special place for them and it has been for many years. Young players at other clubs say they love their club but they don’t really mean it. Here, I can tell they mean it. The club is in their hearts
Under Neil Redfearn, the academy graduate was mostly utilised in his natural defensive midfield position in a 4-2-3-1. However, amid personnel troubles in a turbulent 2014/15 season, Cook’s versatility proved to be another unexpected, but welcome, feather in his cap.
He was later used both in the No.10 position and on the wing for Redfearn, who, like the rest of onlookers who followed Cook’s debut season, was continually amazed by the midfielder’s natural injection of pace. Over five yards, the habitual defensive midfielder possesses a deceiving burst that continues to catch many of his opposite numbers off guard.
And although his future in the game most certainly lies as a midfielder in its purest sense, it’s an incredibly useful attribute in breaking opposition lines when the option arises. Not to mention, a very rare one in players most at home in the middle of the pitch.
His physical strength on the ball is something that needs development. Despite his ferocity in midfield, coming up against bigger, experienced operators can occasionally leave Cook on the periphery of the game, unable to get a foothold in his preferred region of the pitch.
The likes of Javier Mascherano and Nigel de Jong provide relatable modern day examples for the youngster in terms of overcoming that problem, which is likely one that time alone will help to aid. Discipline is also something that wouldn’t be unreasonable to flag up. While aggression is a major part of Cook’s game, it inevitably leaves him susceptible to giving away needless free-kicks and picking up cautions.
Even at the tender age of 17, there's a maturity about him. He's got this strength in character and he's getting better and better
After Leeds’ 1-1 draw away at Nottingham Forest in December 2014, ex-manager Redfearn said: "Lewis Cook, 17 years old... he was the best player on the pitch by a mile. He has a massive influence on us and how we play. Even at the tender age of 17, there's a maturity about him. He's got this strength in character and he's getting better and better."
Did you know?
Cook is the only starter from the England team who beat the Netherlands in the U17 Euros final currently playing for a Championship club. With the exception of Taylor Moore, who plays for Lens in France, the other nine men on show in Malta all belong to Premier League outfits.
What happens next?
Cook is a firm fixture in Uwe Rosler’s plans for the rest of the 2015/16 season, and conclusions on his future beyond that will likely only commence once the German’s first campaign in charge comes to an end.
For now, the 18-year-old is focused solely on improving Leeds’ fortunes on the pitch. “Finishing higher in the table is the first aim,” he recently told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “Obviously the higher we finish the better the season will be, but to start with we have to do better than last year.”
Meanwhile, madcap Leeds owner Massimo Cellino has assured he doesn’t plan to sell any of the club’s most prized youngsters, with Cook at the forefront of transfer speculation.
“I have a lot of trust in the young players here,” Cellino told the club’s official website at the time of Cook’s renewal. “It is a special place for them and it has been for many years. Young players at other clubs say they love their club but they don’t really mean it. Here, I can tell they mean it. The club is in their hearts.”
It’s a nice thought, but history tells us that love hasn’t done much to stand in the way of Leeds’ talented youngsters heading for pastures new. The fact is, with another positive season under his belt, fans of the Yorkshire outfit will be bracing themselves for the departure of another of their cherished talents.