Sheffield United: The secrets behind the Bramall Lane production line of young talent

Travis Binnion
Travis Binnion
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They will kick off the new Championship season on August 5 41st in the English football pyramid.

But when it comes to developing young, talented and hungry footballers, Sheffield United are firmly - and proudly - entrenched in the country’s top ten.

A Press Association report last week placed United, eighth in England and the only non-top flight club in the top ten, based on the amount of Premier League minutes played by clubs’ academy graduates.

Kyle Walker, a graduate of United’s esteemed Steelphalt Academy, recently became football’s most expensive defender with a £50m move to Manchester City from Spurs, while players including Phil Jagielka, Nick Montgomery, Stephen Quinn, Harry Maguire and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all taken the same route, from the Blades’ Shirecliffe base to the top flight of English football.

And for Travis Binnion, United’s academy chief, the study is validation for the work, time and money invested at the former Forgemasters Sports Club in north Sheffield.

“We have got a real depth to what we do which is adding value to the players...not just in terms of talent, skills development and financially, which is clearly important, but as individuals who are well-rounded and capable of making their way in life,” Binnion, himself a former United trainee, said.

“It is great to see the findings of the report but it is the other aspects which have contributed significantly to our reputation. Parents and families see that clearly when they bring their youngsters along. It is a big plus as we seek to build on our reputation.

“The players see it as well through the achievements of some of our youngsters. It is not all about the winning but the desire to win has to be present in whatever we do.”

Building on solid foundations established by Ron Reid, Binnion and his predecessor Nick Cox - now of Manchester United - have forged close relationships with first-team managers, to create an obvious path to the first-team. David Brooks is the latest youngster to benefit, while Regan Slater, Sam Graham and Jake Wright have all been named in squads for United’s pre-season friendlies.

“Our recruitment locally is good,” Binnion added.

“Just look at Kyle, Dominic and Harry - I think everyone knew his family were Wednesday fans. We continue to work hard to get everyone from the age of 15 downwards in the Sheffield region to come to our Academy.

“Also, under Steve Holmes we have done well at national level and are able to spread the net and bring in quickly youngsters, who for whatever reason, did not make it with a Premier League club.

“Currently, we have David who we picked up at the aged of 17 from Manchester City. It was the same with Aaron Ramsdale [who joined Bournemouth in January] who joined us at the age of 15 from Bolton and Ben Whiteman [currently on loan at Doncaster Rovers] who came from Manchester United.

“We are big on identifying talent and seeing what others don’t always see. Sometimes it is a case of the lads are simply just late developers and therefore being patient.

David Brooks is one for the future... and maybe for the present, too

David Brooks is one for the future... and maybe for the present, too

“More and more we are aligned to what Chris [Wilder, Blades boss] wants - I think the Academy is the closest it has ever been to bringing in players that hopefully will go on to fit with the manager’s long-term plans.”

Wilder himself is another former Blades youngster, although he joined his boyhood club in his late teens after initially signing with Southampton’s youth system.

“Sheffield has always produced quality young players, Len Badger, Carl Bradshaw and Dane Whitehouse spring to mind and latterly Phil Jagielka and Michael Tonge before the Academy days of Billy Sharp, Matt Lowton, Kyle Naughton, Kyle Walker and more recently Harry Maguire, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Aaron Ramsdale.

“The introduction of our Academy at Shirecliffe raised the bar, the statistics speak for themselves and we are delighted to remain the frontrunners in South Yorkshire.”

United's Academy at Shirecliffe

United's Academy at Shirecliffe

Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton

Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton