Sheffield United: The curious case of Diego De Girolamo

Diego De Girolamo of Sheffield Utd has a shot blocked during the PDL U21 Final at Bramall Lane. Simon Bellis/SportimageDiego De Girolamo of Sheffield Utd has a shot blocked during the PDL U21 Final at Bramall Lane. Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Diego De Girolamo of Sheffield Utd has a shot blocked during the PDL U21 Final at Bramall Lane. Simon Bellis/Sportimage
He burst onto the scene as a precociously-talented 17-year-old, with a big name and an even bigger reputation.

But almost three and a half years since making his Sheffield United debut, Diego De Girolamo finds his career at a crossroads once more. Still to make his full league debut for his boyhood club, the Italian youth international is on the Bramall Lane transfer list and his future, for now at least, looks like it could lie away from the Steel City.

How did it come to this? As ever in footballing circles, the answer isn’t purely black and white.

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De Girolamo, born in Chesterfield to an Italian father, joined United’s youth academy at the age of seven and signed his first professional deal in 2012, despite reported interest from Manchester United and Manchester City.

A link with Juventus crops up frequently - thought to originate more from De Girolamo’s team of advisors, rather than Turin - but the youngster has instead tried to establish himself at the likes of York City and Northampton Town. Chris Wilder, his boss during a loan spell at the Cobblers, wasted little time transfer-listing the youngster after taking over at Bramall Lane.

De Girolamo is 20 years old now. No age at all in career terms, but his career total of games for United’s first team - 10 in all competitions, six off the bench - tells its own story.

So, too, does the roll-call of managers he’s worked under solely at Bramall Lane; Danny Wilson, Chris Morgan (twice), David Weir, Nigel Clough and Nigel Adkins. Commonly, managers simply don’t fancy certain players but history has repeated itself too many times here.

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Neither is this a story of not trusting youth; Louis Reed is 18 and has played 58 times for United’s senior side. Che Adams, a year older, has 54 appearances on his Blades CV while 22-year-old goalkeeper George Long stands on 118.

De Girolamo had a fractured relationship with Clough and looked set to leave Bramall Lane, but was promised a clean slate under Adkins and agreed a three-year deal.

He played once, for 66 minutes of a 3-0 League Cup defeat at Fulham, and spent the remainder of the season leading the line for United’s U21 side.

He did so with success - United reached the U21 Professional Development League under-21 League Two final before losing to Huddersfield Town at Bramall Lane - and undoubtedly possesses huge potential.

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But Adkins and his coaching staff took a dim view of an ill-advised “Shambles” tweet earlier in the campaign, which expressed his frustration at a lack of first-team action, and several members of the Bramall Lane dressing room were far from impressed, either.

So, this is the latest in a series of big summers for De Girolamo. There is still the chance he could break back into Wilder’s plans, of course, but the penny must drop sooner rather than later, before the second chances run out.

Somewhere in this Chesterfield-born Italy youth international, there is a player and if it doesn’t come out before long, it will be a case of what could have been for the youngster with a big name and even bigger reputation.