To say Steven Haslam has a great affinity with Sheffield Wednesday would be a huge understatement.
Haslam spent almost eight years as a professional at Hillsborough, having joined the club’s academy at the tender age of eight.
Since hanging up his boots, the dyed-in-the-wool Owls fan has maintained his long association with the Championship club and was appointed their new academy manager a week ago.
In an exclusive interview with Owls writer Dom Howson, Haslam discusses the role and his plans for the future.
Dom Howson (DH): What does it mean to you to become academy boss?
Steven Haslam (SH): I’m very proud, having supported the club all my life and so have my family.
I started my career at the club and it was one of my dreams to graduate into the first-team, which I achieved. I then set my sights on coaching in the middle part of my career. I wasn’t quite sure how far I would go with coaching and what opportunities would crop up.
Obviously, I was fortunate enough to get a full-time position four years ago at Wednesday under Dean Ramsdale’s leadership. I’ve been part of an academy that has moved forward and I’ve been rewarded with the role of academy manager.
DH: Have you always wanted to become an academy manager?
SH: I am an ambitious person and work hard but you are never sure in football what opportunities will come up.
Obviously Dean accepted a job to leave and go to Manchester City and I feel this is the natural progression for me.
I have coached the Under-18s and was head of academy coaching but now I will oversee the whole operation.
DH: What does the job entail?
SH: Over the last two years as head of coaching, I’ve worked very closely to Dean and virtually been his right hand man so I’m fully aware of all the duties that come with the job.
I’m managing the staff in the different departments, the budget and contract negotiations. There are different facets to the role but it is something I feel I am well capable and qualified to do.
DH: Are you going to be take a step back from coaching?
SH: Head of academy is a very demanding position. It is a big operation and a demanding role. A lot of the work is done off the pitch but I’m a football person. I want to be influencing things in a positive way out on the grass and maintaining my presence there.
DH: How much did you learn under Dean?
SH: He was different class for me. It is fair to say in the four and a half years Dean was here the academy improved quite significantly and a lot of that was down to him.
Dean is very experienced and he knows how academies operate. He knew what types of people and staff were needed to work in a successful academy and I think he brought them in.
He changed the mindset of the academy in terms of what we needed to aspire to and led from the front.
DH: How do you intend to build on Dean’s work?
SH: The ultimate goal for any academy is to produce players for the first-team. If they don’t play for our first-team, we want to create players who get sold for transfer fees and bring money into the club. We want players to have a first-team career at professional level.
I’ve got some ideas on how I can tweak and modify things. I learned a lot from Dean and enjoyed working with him but it is up to me pick up the baton and continue the upward curve.
DH: Both the U18s and U23s performed superbly last season. How encouraged are you about the talent coming through the youth system?
SH: We think we have a bright crop of youngsters but they are still only youngsters. Until they fully develop and get the opportunity to impress the manager you are never quite sure how far they can go.
There are a few with potential in that age bracket of 18s and 23s so it will be interesting to see how far they can go. We will do everything we can to help and guide them on their journey.
DH: As someone who holds the club dear to their heart, what would it mean if you could help some more youngsters come through the academy?
SH: It would mean everything to me to go to a first-team game where a good proportion of the starting eleven and squad have come through the ranks. It would make me and the rest of the academy staff, who work tirelessly, extremely proud and it is the goal we are all working to.
DH: The players return for pre-season training next week. What is your message to them?
SH: They have to be ambitious, work hard on their games and take any opportunities that come their way. Quite often our youngsters get a chance to train with the first-team and the staff frequently watch the development squad train and youth games. They have to grasp the opportunity to impress the manager.
Each individual player is different and has their own pathway. Some may go straight into our first-team. Some may need a loan spell away to build up their experience.
DH: How much do you think George Hirst will have benefited from playing in that Toulon tournament over the summer?
SH: Playing in an international competition adds to George’s knowledge. He had a great season. He scored 40 goals for our 18s, U23s, made his first-team debut and played in a prestigious tournament for England. It was a fantastic experience for George playing in Toulon and something he should be proud of. The challenge for him now is to try and better that season and take his game to the next level.