Former Sheffield United youngster and teammate of West Brom’s Daryl Dike eyes professional football return

‘Fine margins’ is an oft-heard cliché in football, but many in the game will tell you there really isn't much difference between success and failure.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 1:48 pm

Former Sheffield United youngster Nathaniel Crofts is by no means failing – he was drafted by MLS side Toronto FC just last year - but a look at the career trajectory of his friend and former teammate Daryl Dike might well evoke a sense of what might have been for the 24-year-old.

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The pair played together at the University of Virginia in 2018 and 2019, striking up a bond off the field as well as on it.

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Former Sheffield United youngster Nathaniel Crofts was drafted by MLS side Toronto FC in 2021. Photo: Matt Riley.

But while striker Dike, 21, has just sealed a transfer to Championship high-flyers West Brom following a successful loan spell with Barnsley last season, Steel City-born winger Crofts is back in South Yorkshire and turning out for Stocksbridge Park Steels in English football’s eighth tier.

“I’m definitely still trying to play professional, that’s my goal, my focus,” he tells The Star.

"(At Toronto) it was hard getting a fair opportunity because they didn’t want to bring in new people into the (Covid) bubble they already had.

"It was really hard for me to get a chance so I decided to come back to the UK.”

Crofts, who gained a degree in history during his four-year spell in America from 2017 to 2021, tops up his part-time training schedule at Steels with individual sessions and has found success with a TikTok account – @zonesoccer – on which he posts his drills as well as tuition clips to almost 100,000 followers.

There is no bitterness about how differently things have worked out for him and Dike – and he even offered advice on adjusting to life in the UK when his pal moved over last year.

"It was weird – I was still in America when he made the move,” Crofts says, “he was asking me what it’s like over there. The first thing I told him is it’s definitely a lot different to the US.

"We are pretty close, I’m due to link up with him soon.

"He acts like a big kid off the field but when he gets on the field his game is pretty different."

While Dike could be a Premier League player this year, the wait for a big break goes on for Longley-based Crofts, who reserved praise for his mum Teri, aunt Caroline and granddad Terry for their unconditional support.

"I’m confident in my ability,” he adds.

"It’s just a waiting game at this point, I have got to keep focused.”