The not-so-silent threat facing Sheffield United: James Shield examines a problem looming on the horizon at Bramall Lane

It started with Phil Jagielka, Nick Montgomery and Michael Tonge, continued when Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker graduated with honours and gathered even more pace when Matthew Lowton, Harry Maguire and countless others earned their red and white stripes.

Thursday, 20th September 2018, 4:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th September 2018, 4:47 pm
Sheffield United are facing an outside threat

Now, after watching Regan Slater, Sam Graham and Callum Semple sent out on loan, Jake Eastwood and Rhys Norrington-Davies find themselves carrying the mantle. Although, it must be remembered, captain Billy Sharp also completed his footballing education in Sheffield United's youth ranks.

The fact Stephen Quinn, George Long and Aymen Tahar, (now playing for Boavista and previously of Steaua Bucharest), could also have featured in this column's introduction confirms, when it comes to developing footballers, Bramall Lane should not take lessons from anyone. Like Aaron Ramsdale and David Brooks, both lured away by AFC Bournemouth, they were simply omitted to allow readers to draw breath.

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Be aware of the danger:

Yet, despite being leaders in this most important of fields, United are now the target of a thinly-disguised land grab; encouraged by a propaganda machine fuelled by self-appointed members of the intelligensia and a rag-bag assortment of former pro's.

Not content with imposing the Elite Player Performance Plan on Chris Wilder's employers and other English Football League members, not satisfied with a system which allows them to spirit away teenage talent for as little as £12,500, Premier League members are now suggesting, albeit via a network of naive lackeys, that feeders clubs are the best way forward if the domestic game is to thrive. 

Like the '39th Game', it was a proposal first suggested and then shouted down several years ago. But one which, rather than being torn-up completely, was quietly tucked away in a bottom drawer before being pulled out again at the next opportune moment.

Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp

Questionable evidence:

With England impressing at this summer's World Cup, despite concerns being expressed about the lack of playing time for certain members of Gareth Southgate's squad, this has now arisen. Tenuous links between EPPP and the Three Lions' success are being drawn by some. Contrary, it must be said, to all the evidence.

Nevertheless, given our desire for instant success and the effect it has had on managerial lifespans, a problem has emerged with many gifted but raw individuals finding their route to senior level blocked.

The good, the bad and the very ugly:

Rhys Norrington davies

Yes, there are many good things about EPPP. But the solution is not encouraging or expanding a project which allows top-flight coaches to hoover-up youngsters on a whim. Or, even more worryingly, destroying the fabric of the national game.

It is actually quite simple: Overhaul the compensation system, encouraging teams such as United to invest even more into their academies, and provide students with the first team experience to find their level.