James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Nigel the Builder

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Nigel Clough outlined his desire to “build a football club” after taking charge of Sheffield United just over 12 months ago.

Tuesday’s Capital One Cup fourth round success over MK Dons, when Michael Higdon’s late brace powered them into the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 2003, suggests work on camaraderie is pretty much complete.

A fragmented squad bereft of guts and determination does not, as the statistics behind United’s season so far reveal, score 53.3 per cent of its goals during the final 10 minutes of games.

They might not be the finished article. Imperfections still remain.

But write-off Bramall Lane’s class of 2014 at your peril.

Clough’s predecessor Danny Wilson will notice things have also changed behind the scenes when his Barnsley side arrive for tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated League One derby. New fixtures, fittings and murals adorn the route both sets of players must take when they leave the sanctuary of the dressing room and make their way out onto the pitch.

Think Arsenal rather than Accrington Stanley or AFC Wimbledon. All part of what those tasked with overseeing United’s footballing operations say is a drive to improve professionalism and, by association, performance.

But, speaking earlier this week, Clough gave The Star a fascinating insight into another aspect of his construction project. One which, unlike decor and an overhaul of soft furnishings, will take a while to complete.

“The work being done by our academy is a key part of the future,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why, where possible, we like to watch under-16, under-18 and under-21 games.

“It’s important to be aware of who is coming through the ranks. Not just because it means players like Louis (Reed), Connor Dimaio and Otis Khan can be integrated but also because it influences things we do regarding recruitment now.

“For instance, if we know we have an excellent right-back in the system who might be ready next year, then it means we might direct funding towards different areas or tailor contracts to suit.

“Likewise, if there is a left back, aged 15, who is clearly made of the right stuff then, if we sign someone in that position, we’ll take someone capable of filling the role for three seasons rather than, say, six or seven.

“It’s vital these boys have a pathway through if they show they have the necessary qualities.”

Joined-up thinking which makes it even more bemusing why the average lifespan of Clough and Wilson’s counterparts in the third tier is now 1.62 years.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1