Sheffield Wednesday: David Hirst's son George a hot prospect for Owls
His potential to be a future star is undeniable.
Yet George Hirst does not crave fame and fortune. The prodigiously talented teenager only dreams of playing regularly and scoring goals on a consistent basis for his beloved Sheffield Wednesday.
“Of all the kids I’ve worked with, George is potentially the best,” academy manager Dean Ramsdale told me.
Given Ramsdale is a well-respected figure in the sport, having worked in youth development over 20 years, praise doesn’t get much bigger than that.
He said: “George is not bothered about the nice cars or flashy this, that and the other. He wants to be a footballer because it is built in him from his dad.”
It is Hirst’s attitude, professionalism and work ethic that sets him apart, according to Ramsdale.
“I’ve driven into the training ground car park at 7:30am and George, Fraser Preston and Connor Kirby are already there working hard in the gym,” he remarked.
Ramsdale has tracked Hirst’s progress closely ever since he joined the club in September 2012.
He revealed: “I think the academy had a little go at playing George at centre-half before I came here which didn’t go down very well!
“George was always going to be a striker. He enjoys scoring goals and enjoys the physicality of being a centre forward.”
Hirst’s stellar goal-scoring exploits have not gone unnoticed this season. For club and country, he has racked up an impressive 20 goals. He has been a regular in the Under-18s side but also featured prominently for the development squad, chipping in with his fair share of goals. Not to mention Hirst has represented England at U17 and U18s level this calendar year.
Hirst is hot property. The scouts continue to flock to Middlewood Road to check out the boy wonder. With the vultures circling, Wednesday moved quickly to tie him down to his maiden pro contract last March.
Ramsdale conceded: “It was a challenge to keep George. The big clubs were looking.
“We had a technical board meeting where all the boys get mentioned as far as contracts are concerned.
“We wanted to make sure we got George sorted out as soon as we could as the boy, is potentially, a talent.
“When you are in the England set-up, you are clearly doing something right. He has been keeping boys out of the England set-up who play for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out he’s a good player.
“If we continue to work with George and develop him as we think we are doing, then ultimately a decision will have to be made on whether he gets another contract. We are looking at that already, not just with George, but a number of boys over whether we do extend.”
For Ramsdale, youngsters have to possess confidence, bordering on arrogance, to make the step up. He also feels they have to be self-motivated and willing to learn. All character traits that Ramsdale thinks Hirst has in abundance.
“George is not your conventional academy type player that we like to produce in this country,” said Ramsdale. “He’s a little bit old fashioned which I quite like.
“He wants to come to the ball rather than run in behind.”
Passing on his vast experience and wisdom to Wednesday’s next generation is Hirst’s father, David.
Ramsdale said: “When I first came here, David was on the outside looking in but I wanted him in and around the set-up because of his knowledge, his passion for the game and for this club.”
Hirst senior’s input is invaluable, says Ramsdale.
“I ask him all the time about things,” he said. “Although David doesn’t have his coaching A licence, it doesn’t mean you don’t understand the game. When you’ve been a player like David was, sometimes you have to look past the qualifications. David knows way more about being a centre forward than I do so I bow to his expertise.”
David is heavily involved in Wednesday’s youth set-up - but doesn’t purely focus his time and energy to giving George tips. Far from it.
Ramsdale said: “I thought when David came and got more involved, I thought he was obviously doing it to be around George more but that’s not the case. We have got David around the Under 16s on matchdays.
“When George has played with the 18s, David has gone and watched the 16s.”
Legend is an overused word in sport, but David wrote his name in Wednesday history, scoring 128 goals in 309 starts for the club between 1986 and 1997.
All eyes will be on George, who made his senior debut in the EFL Cup earlier this campaign, over the coming years as he looks to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Ramsdale said: “I remember sitting down with David and George when we offered George the scholarship and I remember saying to George ‘I’ve had a lot of players sign for a football club where their dad have played but I’ve never had a kid where their dad has been a legend at the football club.’
“I said ‘you are going to have a few problems if your career pans out the way we think it is going to do and you are going to have the spotlight on you.’
“But to be fair to George, his answer was pretty good. He said ‘it’s the club that I love and want to play for and the club where my dad was a legend at but I want to play for Sheffield Wednesday.’
“So I went to George ‘I will support you however I can with that and ultimately we will protect you if we can.’
“The thing about George is that he is the nicest kid you could wish to meet. He’s a nice kid and potentially a good footballer.
“I have spoken to Neil Dewsnip (England Under-18 coach) and whenever George goes away with them, he says exactly the same. England comment on his football ability and what a good, level headed kid he is.”
The spotlight and pressure is likely to always be on George. People, naturally, will try to compare George to his dad but Ramsdale is backing him to take that in all in his stride.
He said: “The beauty about George is he’s in a football family. He has seen his dad socially and seen sometimes what being a top player brings on and off the pitch.
“I think George has got a great person to have around to sound off to. David will give him fantastic advice so it is one of them for George where he is surrounded by good people that are here to look after to him.
“His mum and his dad are fantastic people and the club and the staff are here to support him and every single boy at the academy.
“Ultimately, George is in the spotlight because of his ability and he’s got David on his back. “George has got a good tutor in his dad who knows what he should and shouldn’t be doing.”
There is a lot of hype surrounding George, but Wednesday are keen to stress he has a long way to go before he is competing for a starting spot in the first-team. George has trained with the senior squad over the last fortnight, but the Owls refuse to rush his development.
“People forget that he’s only 17,” said Ramsdale. “George can be a top player but there are a lot of things that have got to happen.
“He has to stay injury free which is a big one as things can change in football in the blink of an eye. He needs a little bit of luck.”
Hirst junior’s time will come - and it may come sooner than people think.