SHEFFIELD UNITED: Top-flight status holds the key to keeping talent

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GEORGE Long in goal.

The two Kyles - Walker and Naughton - providing a defence anchored by Phil Jagielka and Harry Maguire with power and poise.

Stephen Quinn, Michael Tonge and Jacob Mellis showcasing their technique in midfield while Nick Montgomery does the hard yards.

Jonathan Forte’s pace scaring opponents witless while Billy Sharp revels in the space it creates.

Evan Horwood, Jordan Slew, Joe Ironside, Terry Kennedy and Elliott Whitehouse watching dutifully from the bench.

A damn good team, I’m sure you’ll agree. Completely home grown too.

Raul Meireles is likely to sport a sensible haircut before Sheffield United name a starting 11 made up entirely of graduates from its youth academy at Shirecliffe.

Football, with its culture of greed, envy and appetite for spending cash it ain’t got, doesn’t work like that.

But with the above boasting a combined total of 51 senior and under-21 international caps between them, it is fair to say that United have discovered the knack of producing damn good talent.

The important thing now is to put themselves in a position whereby they can actually keep the cream.

And that, of course, is the Premier League.

United’s management have, with the benefit of hindsight admittedly, made some poor decisions in the past.

Walker, now the darling of England and Tottenham Hotspur, was undersold, the likes of Horwood and Forte either overlooked or discarded too early.

But supporters who cling to the misguided notion love and loyalty still exist in modern sport must realise that, until United are established in the top flight, young players with careers to further will want to leave.

They might not say so publicly.

|They’ll trot out the usual guff about being committed to the cause and loving the fans but, believe me, they do.

This might be the beautiful game. But, scratch away at the PR gloss, and its a mercenary business indeed.

However, United’s hierarchy have proven remarkably astute at times too.

Electing to channel a significant chunk of their funds into the youth system is one such instance, particularly given the financial challenges - real and regulatory - looming large on the horizon.

Translating all that good work behind the scenes into success on the pitch, however, will be a much tougher task.

Only when firmly entrenched in the top flight will United be able to retain the best players they have nurtured. - or sell them at a premium or, worst-case scenario, for what they are actually worth.

Until then, folk had better get used to the idea.

Aspiring professionals will get their heads turned.

And given the instant riches on offer, who can blame them, I suppose?