By Alex Stevens
Mirco Antenucci has a “good future” in front of him even if he does not extend his Leeds deal beyond this season, according to Steve Evans.
The club’s joint leading scorer with eight league goals has struck three times in their last two matches to steer the team away from the relegation zone and potentially rescue Evans’ job.
The Italian forward drew interest and offers from Italy in January, but Leeds were unwilling to lose him and his contribution in the past week against Bolton and Cardiff has justified that stance.
Antenucci will start away at Blackburn on Saturday and Evans does not appear in any rush to see the striker leave.
“No-one disputes that Mirco is a very talented player,” Evans said. “When you’ve got a focused Mirco, you’ve got a player who you know defenders won’t want to face.
Evans backed himself into a corner recently by claiming that contract talks had begun with Alex Mowatt, Charlie Taylor and Lewis Cook, a claim which was contradicted by one of the players’ agents.
Evans, whose own deal as manager runs until June, said he would leave Antenucci’s situation for “others to focus on” but told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Of course I have a say in the players. If I didn’t want him there wouldn’t be a contract there. That’s my role.
“But I just want Mirco to focus on his performances and on getting a lot more goals. I had a chat with him prior to Bolton and said, ‘your time’s arrived, go and score goals. Produce performances that make you sought-after internally and externally’.
“If he continues to score goals then he puts himself in a wonderful position and he gives this club every opportunity to want to have that kid around for another 12 months or two years.
“A good future lies in front of him, wherever it is, but that decision lies with other people.”
Evans commented more than once on Antenucci’s “focus” but said he was not questioning the striker’s attitude.
“I’ve not seen that (a lack of focus) personally,” Evans said. “I see a kid who’s hurt when I’ve not played him. I’ve seen him hurt to a lesser degree when I’ve taken him off in matches.
“He was reminding me today that in Italy he scored a lot of his goals late in games because in football, as a rule, defenders get tired and have lapses in concentration.
“Antenucci’s incredibly fit and when he’s in the frame of mind he’s in at the moment, I wouldn’t want my team to play against him.”