For a brief spell last Saturday there were six graduates of Sheffield United’s youth system on the pitch at the same time (Billy Sharp, George Long, Ben Whiteman, Louis Reed, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jonathan Forte), plus two more on the respective benches (Graham Kelly and Connor Brown).
There was a period of a few seasons not so long ago when it was common for there to be four or five homegrown players in United’s matchday squad (Quinn, Maguire, Montgomery, Lowton, Naughton, Walker, Tonge, Slew) but we ended up selling all the best ones, and look where that got us.
Fans of all clubs love to see their ‘own’ players in the first team and usually (but not always) give them a bit of leeway if things go wrong. If they play poorly, at least it’s our players playing poorly, and not just a bunch of temps and contract-seekers failing to perform, as it has been for much of this season.
Both Nigel Adkins and Nigel Clough have a reputation of bringing youngsters through, but for reasons of immediacy were not able to give many of them an extended chance.
Clough picked Reed, Otis Khan, Connor Dimaio, Whiteman, Calvert-Lewin, Long and Diego De Girolamo, but only sparingly as he preferred small Scottish players and ex-Derby men.
Adkins’ claims to be a prime promoter of youth are not entirely vindicated by his record at Southampton (he gave debuts to Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Callum Chambers) but he has done better than many managers in this regard.
He talks often of ‘a pathway to the first team’, which has been jammed up by too many players signed by his predecessor. Let’s hope he can continue to clear the way by re-shaping the squad in the summer.