Alan Biggs: Travis Binnion reveals the secrets behind Sheffield United's £50m Shirecliffe academy

England's Harry Maguire
England's Harry Maguire
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“England’s Glory” is the legend that comes to mind when considering Harry Maguire’s, Kyle Walker’s – and Sheffield United’s - part in the nation’s World Cup success.

We know it as the name on a matchbox but it might as well be emblazoned on the Blades’ academy right now.

Football clubs, by and large, don’t run at a profit. United’s academy does. Which is probably just as well in the grand scheme of things.

Grand, it is. As indeed is the Premier League. But the bigger picture is that the sustainability of the club leans to a high degree on the profitability of the other.

The Blades academy has earned the club the thick end of £50m since the Shirecliffe complex was established in 2002. “You have to be talking comfortably in excess of £40m,” is the official word from academy manager Travis Binnion. That’s roughly £3m a season by my reckoning.

And let’s hope it’s too precious to become a pawn in the power game for control of the club.

Considering it costs less than £1m a year to run, the academy has consumed little more than £10m of its profit – leaving a bottom line figure upwards of £30m. Vital funds considering that, within that time, United have had just one season in the Premier League.

There is the rub for many, of course. Yes, you can argue that United would have had more success on the field had they held on to more of their products, or at least for longer. What is beyond dispute is that the academy has been, and continues to be, an outstanding success.

It is equally logical that if the wheels keep turning at the same rate there will conceivably come a time when the club can furnish much of its own team in the top flight.

If that happens then the fruitfulness of the intervening years, albeit mostly financial, will convert to having kept a stable platform intact for the club to aim high.

There has been a steady accumulation of fees from a long list of players. Some may have been forgotten. Others, like England’s Maguire and Walker, never will be after England's run to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia.

The list includes Lee Morris, Curtis Woodhouse, Wayne Quinn, Phil Jagielka, Michael Tonge, Kyle Naughton, Matt Lowton, Jordan Slew, Aaron Ramsdale, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and, of course, David Brooks, developed by the club after moving from Manchester City.

It’s to the enormous credit of former academy boss Ron Reid in particular and many others in general – including John Warnock (brother of Neil) right at the start – that the brainchild of long-time board chief Kevin McCabe has been such a sustaining force.

But there’s something beyond price – schooling people, not just players. It’s the humility and unpretentious nature of this England team, instilled by manager Gareth Southgate, that won the public’s support even before a tournament ball was kicked.

It strikes a similar chord at Shirecliffe. “Our mantra is ‘better people, better players’,” says Binnion. “It’s about a lot more than talent. It’s important in encouraging clubs to take our young players on loan. They know what they’re getting as people.”

Power to those people in furthering England’s glory. And Sheffield United’s.