Sheffield United: Blades boy England’s man of experience!

George Long has played more games than his three rivals put together
George Long has played more games than his three rivals put together
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Like most lads his age, George Long quite fancies spending the summer in Turkey.

But Sheffield United’s teenage goalkeeper has his heart set on a busman’s rather than booze-fuelled holiday after being selected in England’s provisional squad for next month’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

“It would mean everything to go over there,” he told The Star. “Because the highest honour you can have in the game is representing your country.

“So I’ll be doing everything I can to try and make the cut.”

Long, who spent last week at a training camp in Cheshire, will discover whether his dream has come true when Peter Taylor’s young lions complete their preparations at St George’s Park in 11 days.

With Chelsea’s Jamal Blackman, Middlesbrough’s Connor Ripley and Sam Johnstone of Manchester United also vying for places, competition is fierce. But having established himself as a first team regular last season, Long clearly has a fighting chance.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned since coming into the side is the mental side of my job,” he continued. “That’s been the most important lesson, the need to develop a strong (psychological) edge.

“Everyone makes mistakes but being involved has taught me how to put them behind you - realise what went wrong but don’t dwell on it and move on.

“That’s probably been the biggest change in me, the biggest improvement from when I first came through the system.

“In our position, shot-stopping pretty much takes care of itself. You can always get better but most of us are good at it or we wouldn’t have made the grade as youngsters.

“What separates the really successful players from the rest is what goes on in the mind -decision-making and being mentally strong.”

Long, who credits coach Darren Ward and former teammate Danny Coyne with helping him make the transition from academy prospect to United’s established number one, boasts more senior experience than Blackman, Ripley and Johnstone combined, having made 44 appearances last term.

An ever-present since in the South Yorkshire club’s starting 11 since October, he is also one of only two players in Taylor’s initial 35 man party plying their trade in England’s third tier.

“I’ve definitely benefited from getting matches under my belt,” Long, aged 19, said. “At my age, it’s important to actually be involved rather than sitting on the bench or perhaps not even doing that.

“That’s why I don’t take any notice of speculation about other clubs being interested. It’s not my concern and the only thing I’m focused on is Sheffield United.

“I’ve been here all of my career and it’s who I support so it means so much. That’s why I’ll keep working hard to try and improve myself.

“I’m not really bothered about all of the other stuff.”

England, who reached the last 16 of the tournament two years ago, begin their Group E campaign with a fixture against Iraq in Antalya on June 23.

They face Chile, again at the Akdeniz University Stadium, three days later before facing Egypt in Bursa on June 29.

Holders Brazil will not defend their title after failing to qualify, meaning Paraguay, Columbia and Uruquay will help Mario Salas’ side fly the South American flag while France, Spain, Ghana and the host nation are also being tipped to perform well.

“I know a few of the other lads who have been called up for the training camps,” Long said. “And they’re all quality.

“So, whatever happens, I know I’ll benefit from just being in this environment and that should mean I hopefully come back a better player.”