Sheffield United aim to establish a network of partnerships with local semi-professional and non-league clubs as they look to cement the Redtooth Academy’s reputation as the region’s most prolific developer of footballing talent, writes James Shield.
United’s under-18’s, who begin their pre-season preparations against Notts County tomorrow, have arranged friendlies with the likes of Stocksbridge Park Steels, Hallam FC, Buxton and Belper as well as more high-profile opponents such as Hull City and Glasgow Rangers.
Although the latter two games will capture the imagination of those who follow United’s fortunes at youth level, visits to Bracken Moor, Sandygate, Silverlands and Christchurch Meadow will exert greater influence over Bramall Lane’s fortunes in future years.
Academy manager Nick Cox, who earlier this month revealed United will focus their efforts on producing players with “a local footprint,” told The Star: “We hope to have an informal but productive partnerships with these teams in the future.
“These fixtures haven’t just come about by accident. They’ve been selected because we feel we can work with the people there going forward in terms of sharing knowledge, resources and also loans.
“It’s not an exclusive group but we do hope to work closely with the coaches at these well-regarded clubs and invite them to our academy to take a close look at what we do.”
Cox, who indicated the programme could eventually be rolled-out at grassroots level, was speaking after United received a special commendation from the Premier League for their ability to groom players capable of featuring at senior level.
England’s Kyle Walker and Phil Jagielka all learned their trade with the League One club before joining Tottenham Hotspur and Everton respectively while goalkeeper George Long and defender Harry Maguire established themselves as first team regulars last term. Fellow graduates Jahmal Smith and Jordan Hodder were selected for the first-team’s recent tour of Scotland.
United youth team, who will hold a training camp at Stirling University to coincide with Tuesday’s meeting with Rangers, visit Stocksbridge (July 22), Hull City (July 26), Hallam (July 30), Buxton (August 3) and Belper (August 6) ahead of a local derby with Leeds on August 10.
“We are committed to giving local football back something tangible,” Cox said. “It will be interesting and exciting to see how this works out.”