Julian Winter, Sheffield United’s chief executive, has placed keeping Bramall Lane’s best young talent at the top of his ‘to do’ list after returning to South Yorkshire, writes James Shield.
Winter, confirming the club’s youth system will not be subject to the same cost-cutting measures about to be implemented at first-team level following its failure to secure promotion from League One, made the admission after being officially unveiled earlier this week.
Citing United’s ability to produce home grown players as “a key strength,” he told The Star: “Everyone has always talked about our academy and one of the challenges has been preventing those who progress through it from flipping too early.
“From the data I’ve seen, unless I’m reading the wrong information, we don’t get enough long-term academy stayers. Footballers who stay for a significant period of time and that’s something I want to address.”
Despite acknowledging it is almost impossible to retain exceptional graduates such as Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker, who joined Tottenham Hotspur less than a year after progressing through the ranks, Winter added: “Players will always find their level and, in circumstances like that, it’s very, very difficult to stand in someone’s way.
“But if we can keep five or six here for a significant period of time, get value from them, then that will be progress.”
Although the demands of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) effectively ring-fences expenditure on academy programmes, Winter reassured supporters that United had never considered reducing investment in a programme which has also produced the likes of Phil Jagielka, Matthew Lowton, Michael Tonge and Nick Montgomery in recent seasons.
Seven members of the squad which travelled to Huish Park for the second leg of the play-off semi-final with Yeovil Town had also honed their skills at Shirecliffe.
Representatives of Foot Pass England, a subsidiary of Belgian firm Double Pass, recently inspected its facilities as part of EPPP’s roll-out by the governing bodies.
Winter, who previously held a similar position with United before parting company with the club eight months ago, said: “We have applied for category two status and that demands a certain level of spending anyway.
“We’ve effectively been running that since EPPP’s introduction and have undergone audit so, when the reports are received shortly, we’re confident of getting it.”