CREWE Alexandra are known for producing gifted footballers.
And, in recent seasons, Sheffield United have rediscovered the art too with Kyle Walker, Matthew Lowton and Kyle Naughton among those to roll off the Bramall Lane conveyor belt since their youth academy at Shirecliffe opened its doors.
The trick now, for United at least, is to try and ensure recent graduates like Harry Maguire and George Long remain in situ rather than pursue careers elsewhere.
Danny Wilson, whose side entertain Alexandra tonight, is relaxed about reports linking United’s young gems with moves to the top flight.
“You can’t stop people looking so why worry about it,” he acknowledged earlier this month.
Indeed, the former Northern Ireland international claimed Maguire’s recent elevation to England’s under-21’s demonstrates players should not feel compelled to depart in order to fulfil their potential.
“It’s great for the club’s kudos,” Wilson, reflecting on Maguire’s call-up, said. “A credit to him and also the staff who have worked with Harry down the years.
“Listen, your best players are always going to be difficult to keep. It makes no difference whether you are Sheffield United or Arsenal.
“But the key for Harry is that he’s in a first-team environment. Stuart Pearce (the England coach) has recognised that he’s playing regularly for a big and good club.”
Of course, some players are simply impossible to retain.
Phil Jagielka, now of Everton, was destined to leave United irrespective of whether they had managed to avoid relegation from the Premier League in 2007.
The sight of Shaun Miller lining up for the opposition will prove painful for this evening’s visitors. After all, they spent nearly two decades nurturing the 25-year-old before Wilson lured him away.
“It’s so important for clubs to produce their own players now,” Miller, who has scored four goals in as many starts since arriving from Gresty Road earlier this summer, said.
“Very few have got millions to spend anymore.”
“One of the benefits of bringing youngsters through the ranks is that, when they do get into the first team, they’ve already got a bond,” he added.
“Because they’ve come through the ranks together they understand each other’s games.”
Miller’s impressive display during last weekend’s 4-1 victory over Stevenage, which saw United regain second place in the League One table from MK Dons, is almost certain to be rewarded with a prominent role against Steve Davis’ charges who slipped to 14th after losing at Shrewsbury Town.
Davis, who led Alexandra to promotion from League Two last term, previously worked under Wilson at Barnsley.
“It’s a great challenge we’re all looking forward to; a tough game against a big club and a manager I know very well,” Davis said.
“Danny was my manager when I played at Barnsley and I have huge respect for him.
“ It will be nice to catch up after the final whistle.
“As a club they’ve had their financial difficulties after falling down a couple of divisions and they’re looking to bounce up with a smaller budget -although it will still be four times the size of ours.
“They’ve got players who could easily be playing in the Championship so that’s what we’ve got to put ourselves up against. Their fans have high expectations and that’s what comes with being a big club, but we can produce.”
Teams and ref
UNITED: (possible): Long, Westlake, Maguire, Collins, Williams, Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Blackman, Miller, Porter (4-3-3).
CREWE (possible): Martin, Tootle, Davis, Ellis, Robertson, Murphy, Clayton, Aneke, Pogba, Moore, Dalla Valle. (4-4-2).
James Adcock: From Nottinghamshire, tonight’s match official averages 2.63 yellow cards per game this season and a red every eight. However, he averages only 2.4 cautions every match in League One competition since August. This evening’s contest will be the first time he has overseen a fixture at Bramall Lane.