Alan Biggs at Large: Reed all about it - but does Clough’s job really hinge on United going up?

Alan Bigg Telegraph Web Tile
Alan Bigg Telegraph Web Tile
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With a bigger squad come bigger calls. And none were bigger than Nigel Clough leaving out Sheffield United mainstays Michael Doyle and Neill Collins on the opening day.

Apart from one maybe. Clough’s selection of 17 year old Louis Reed was not only a statement of a brave new world. It was brave, pure and simple.

It’s one thing for a club to talk about bringing more youngsters into the first team. It’s another to actually do it. The clamour for instant success is so great that most posture half-heartedly and hesitate until a youngster is pushing 20.

Reed, United’s youngest ever senior, is there because of his talent as a midfielder, of course.

But it’s not only that.

Managers have to feel confident in their own future, besides that of a young player’s potential, in order to promote them early. Clough’s profession is riddled with a deep and understandable insecurity that, across the whole English game, is compromising the advancement of home-grown talent and fuelling the raging debate about too many foreigners harming the national team on the world stage.

Of course, no-one will shy away from the expectation of promotion for the Blades this season, least of all the manager.

But as for his job depending on it? That is where this club and football in general has come unstuck too often.

If Clough believed he was as vulnerable as so many others, would he (could he) have made the decisions he took last weekend, particularly on Reed?

The result, a 2-1 home defeat to Bristol City, was surprising and unwanted.

But it underlined the wider point.

There is a risk in playing teenagers, even if Reed - a ball-player operating in Doyle’s position - fully justified his ensuing three-year deal. For United to further their own template, these are risks they have to take. And ensure continuity of management.

Which is not to say the Collins, Doyle decisions didn’t cause this column to raise an eyebrow.

Or wonder at no start for Jose Baxter, another proven performer last season, albeit subject to a continuing tactical preference for only one natural striker in new man Michael Higdon.

But all these issues come with the territory of a hopefully stronger squad and finding the best line-up from within it. Converting that to the

best team in League One is the challenge. Yet Clough has to keep half an eye looking beyond that - as do the club in entrusting him with the bigger picture.

And, writing ahead of last night’s Capital One Cup win over Mansfield, I note NC highlighting the claims of several more kids. We know him well enough to know he doesn’t do so idly.