Sheffield United have received a special commendation for their ability to produce home-grown talent, writes James Shield.
The award was issued by the Premier League following its decision to grant Redtooth Academy category two status following the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP).
An independent audit performed ahead of this week’s announcement ranked United among the country’s top eight teams in terms of developing footballers capable of performing at senior level.
George Long, Harry Maguire, Callum McFadzean, Joe Ironside and England international Kyle Walker are among the club’s most recent graduates in recent seasons.
“For me, getting this mention is arguably just as important as the grading itself,” Nick Cox, United’s academy manager, told The Star. “Because bringing youngsters through is essentially the whole purpose of what we do.
“To be placed up there with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea is the culmination of years of hard work.
“You don’t just achieve something like this overnight. You can’t just flick a switch.
“So a huge amount of credit must go not only to the staff working so hard here at the moment but also those who have done sterling work here in the past.”
“We haven’t been outside the top 20 in the past 12 years either,” Cox continued. “I think this is what helps set us apart from other clubs.”
EPPP, which its supporters controversially argue will raise the standard of young English players, contains a clause which ranks academies from one to four.
Cox, who together with United’s head of football operations John Stephenson was responsible for helping to overhaul Watford’s youth and recruitment systems, explained why officials at Bramall Lane opted not to apply for the highest classification.
“Category two fits in with the ethos of what we want to do,” he said. “Going for category one would have been more about massaging our egos.
“That would have enabled us to bring in players from across the country from 12 years old. However, what we want to do is nurture the leading talent from our region.
“Footballers from the local and surrounding areas. Receiving a special mention will, I’m sure, help us to do it.
“That is our ultimate priority and focus.”
Meanwhile, Colin Cameron, the Cowdenbeath manager, has warned United his team will be no pushovers during today’s friendly at Central Park.
United face the Scottish First Division club this afternoon as their preparations for the new season continue to gather pace.
Cooper’s side finished eighth in the competition last term, avoiding relegation despite employing a largely part-time squad.
“Lots of my lads work long hours in the day and have physically demanding jobs,” Cooper, the former Wolves and Hearts midfielder, said. “But their fitness levels really impressed me last time out.
“The statistics showed that we didn’t concede many during the final ten minutes of games and that is testament to their dedication.”
“Where you really see the difference with professionals is set-pieces,” Cameron added. “We don’t have the luxury of being able to spend half an hour on them during the week.”