COMMENT By Richard Parks
Liam Cooper will soon be a distant memory if Leeds United succeed in their reported pursuit of Stevenage centre-back Ben Wilmot.
Cooper has had a season to forget after starting on a high with the the captaincy award and some decent performances as United hit the ground running in the Championship/
But, much like the Leeds team, the 26-year-old performances have gradually got more wretched and unreliable, and it is not hyperbolic to assert that he might not be at the club beyond the next window.
Certainly, the Yorkshire giants are in the market for a central defender who can be a more solid partner for main man Pontus Jansson.
Football Whispers claim that Wilmot is most likely to be United’s next signing after establishing himself in the first team for League Two outfit Stevenage with a series of outstanding displays.
It comes after the Independent claim there is a stampede of interest in the Englishman, 18, just six months and 15 matches into his professional career.
It is said that Leeds were “very keen to sign” Wilmot in the January window, as were Liverpool, Derby County and Brighton, while Watford tabled a £500,000 bid and there was also an offer from Tottenham.
That shouldn’t put off United, who have completely overhauled their youth set-up this season with a whirlwind of new arrivals.
Wilmot is clearly a young player of immense potential, but he is also a player who can go straight into the first-team reckoning at Leeds.
The centre-back has established himself at League Two outfit Stevenage through a string of outstanding displays at the centre of their defence since graduating from the club’s academy and many already consider him the best centre-back in the division.
His rise is even more astonishing when taken into account the fact that he has only been playing at centre-back for just over a year, having being moved back there from midfield halfway through last season, the first year of his scholarship.
Wilmot’s call-up to England Under-19s in the past fortnight, coupled with the Premier League scouts beating a path to Stevenage, suggests that Leeds have their work cut out to win the race for his signature.
Much will depend on who is willing to meet the fourth-tier club’s asking price, as well as the pathways laid down by the interested clubs in developing a teenager who can go all the way in the game.
The Independent report that Stevenage’s £1million asking price for the player is “likely” to be met by a top-flight club this summer.
Leeds can win the race by striking an early summer deal and showing Wilmot how they can develop him into a future England centre-back while playing for an ambitious club in front of one of the most passionate fanbases in the country.
If they do, that is likely to mean curtains for Cooper.
In other Leeds United transfer news, the club have agreed the terms of an £8.5million deal, with the first payment scheduled for the summer.