Sheffield United: James Shield’s inside view

Sheffield United vs Carlisle United'Joe Ironside
Sheffield United vs Carlisle United'Joe Ironside
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SEVERAL years ago, a coach at Sheffield United’s academy told me it was his ambition to see the club field an entire squad of home grown talent.

Okay, he admitted, dwindling tolerance levels both inside boardrooms and on the terraces meant it was probably unachievable. Patience and prudence are now perceived as signs of weakness and mediocrity rather than desirable virtues.

You’ve only got to count how many managers have been unceremoniously sacked this season, listen to directors being told “spend some bloomin’ money,” whenever a transfer window swings open to appreciate that.

It was a shame this footballing romantic, who has long since departed Bramall Lane, didn’t attend the recent fixture between Walsall and United at the Banks’s Stadium though. Because the team sheets would certainly have stirred his ardour.

Eight players, including the hosts’ Ben Purkiss, were graduates of the visitors’ youth system. Twenty-two per cent of those on show. A figure which should make everyone associated with United very, very proud.

In these financially chastened times, where Football League members must also adhere to new regulations designed to curtail expenditure, the ability to produce players will become increasingly important.

But there is another reason why teams like United should aspire to ensuring their academies, rather than the open market, become their main source of personnel. And they have nothing to do with money.

The sight of Nick Montgomery, Phil Jagielka and Michael Tonge or, more recently, Callum McFadzean, Joe Ironside and Harry Maguire progressing through the ranks gives United a tangible sense of identity. Increases the sense of belonging both on and off the pitch.

It for exactly that reason why folk who argued the controversy surrounding Paolo Di Canio’s political beliefs was a nonsense are sorely mistaken.

A bit like claims his displays of fascist sympathies have never been an issue before. Try telling that to the GMB who withdrew their backing for Swindon when he arrived there two years ago.

If footballing institutions want to be private businesses then fair enough. But they can’t position themselves as flagbearers for their community then lower the standard when it suits.