It was, he later admitted, one of the most difficult experiences of his career and life but Neill Collins’ Sheffield United exile, under previous boss Nigel Clough, did at least allow him to observe England’s latest World Cup-winning hero at close quarters.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a Blades youngster at the time, still hoping to make the grade. On Sunday, with the winning goal in the Under-20 World Cup Final in Korea, the 19-year-old forward, now of Everton, cemented his status as one of the country’s most exciting, and talented, players.
“During my time out the side under Clough I trained with Dom a lot and got to watch him up close,” Collins, now playing in the USA for Tampa Bay Rowdies, told The Star.
“His attitude was excellent and he had the ability to match it. He worked exceptionally hard behind the scenes on his game and on his physical conditioning. He is almost the perfect modern-day footballer in respect of his physical attributes; he’s quick, strong, lean and can play anywhere up front.
“Physically, he reminded me of a young Cristiano Ronaldo in the gym. When he grows into a man, he could be awesome.
“I noticed in the games I watched him in that he could change a game and score fantastic goals. It is no surprise to me that he has achieved what he has since he left the Blades as his dedication is something that many lads should aim to replicate.
“The big challenge for him now is to play more for Everton and break in to the full England squad. Luckily for him, he plays for a club and a manager intend on blooding youngsters and, as long as people don’t put too much pressure on him, a full England call-up is very possible.”
Sheffielder Calvert-Lewin, who joined Everton in a deal thought to be worth an initial £1.4 million, began his footballing career in Handsworth Parramore’s youth sides before graduating to the Premier League, via loan spells at Stalybridge Celtic and Northampton Town.
Keith Briggs, the United coach who was then in charge at Celtic, remembers Calvert-Lewin as “unbelievable”.
“His attitude was fantastic. He came in with no airs and graces,” Briggs said.
“He was a cracking lad and he just got his head down. I think he scored seven goals in six games for us. Over the Christmas period, we played our local rivals Hyde and beat them 7-2. He was just unbelievable that day.”
Chris Short was Calvert-Lewin’s assistant manager from U-7 level at Handsworth Boys. He told The Star: “Some of my best memories of Dominic at his young age were how he would put so much effort in to learn new things, how important it was for him to have a ball at his feet. He was football mad and a special talent.
“The one thing we said was ‘this kid is special’, and his own development and that of his family are a testament to how far he has gone and is going. I remember when we were playing against Eckington at U-7 level and he scored four goals in 10 minutes - all runs from his own half and a steady jog back to halfway to start again; an amazing talent at a raw age.
“He’s developed like he has, at the speed he has, and now he’s scoring in a World Cup Final.”
His attitude was excellent and he had the ability to match it. He worked exceptionally hard behind the scenes on his game and on his physical conditioning. He is almost the perfect modern day footballer in respect to his physical attributes; he’s quick, strong, lean and can play anywhere up front. Physically, he reminded me of a young Cristiano Ronaldo in the gym and when he grows into a man, he could be awesome.Neill Collins on DCL