Derek Geary explains why Sheffield United's DNA matches his own after being appointed Blades' academy head
He was born over the Irish Sea and represented their city rivals earlier in his playing career. But no-one could ever accuse Derek Geary of not understanding what it means to wear the badge of Sheffield United.
A man of exemplary attitude, and no little ability, as a player, Geary has taken those attributes into coaching after being forced to retire prematurely because of a debilitating knee injury.
And his work with United’s U18s led to confirmation earlier this week that he was being promoted to the head of the Blades’ academy, stepping into the shoes of Jack Lester after he moved up to work with United’s first team.
Lester was appointed head of player development at Bramall Lane after Paul Heckingbottom, previously the Blades’ U23 boss, succeeded Slavisa Jokanović at the helm earlier in the season.
Michael Collins, the former Huddersfield Town, Scunthorpe United and Oxford United midfielder who briefly managed Bradford City, has been appointed as United’s U23 lead coach.
“The last few months have been hectic, with Jack and Hecky moving up, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for me,” Geary said.
“I’m really excited and looking forward to it. I’ve got an eye on the academy side right from the U8s to the U23s and the players we bring into the building, the culture we set and the environment we give these young players.
“They’re all coming in with a dream of playing for our first team so hopefully I can set that standard and help push things on. I’ve been here a long time and seen a lot of good young players come through, right from Billy Sharp in the first team now and Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker.
“So it’s a tough act to follow but hopefully I can build on the good work done over the last 10 years and continue producing footballers, as this club always has done.”
Crossing the city divide
Geary arrived in Sheffield as a teenager after being plucked by Wednesday from his schoolboy club in Dublin, Rivermount Boys. The Owls liked what they saw in Geary, but his diminutive stature meant they had their reservations.
But Geary impressed during what was essentially a six-month trial period and he played over 100 times for Wednesday, winning the club’s player of the year award as a 21-year-old in 2001/02.
But in 2003 he left Hillsborough, along with Alan Quinn and Leigh Bromby. Those two were snapped up by then-United boss Neil Warnock, who fancied signing Geary as well. But Geary remembers the thought of bringing in another ex-Owl putting Warnock off, and he went to Stockport instead – only to sign for United anyway a few months later.
Geary laughs now at the memory of his early days at Bramall Lane, when he warmed up from the bench to cries – from Blades fans – referencing his Wednesday past, and not at all complimentary.
But, like Quinn and Bromby, he won over the Blades faithful and was a part of the squad that was promoted to the Premier League in 2005/06.
“I’ve been in Sheffield a long time and at Sheffield United for a long time, and it’s a club I have a really good connection and bond with,” Geary added.
“I know the club’s DNA inside out, it matches mine. I went from playing to coaching and then with the U18s and like everything else, I’ve always put 100 per cent in.
“I’ve always thrown myself in and see how I progress from there. Fortunately for me I’ve been given a lot of opportunity at this football club to progress in my coaching and I’m grateful for this opportunity.
“As always I’ll give 100 per cent and the most important thing is that my 100 per cent effects these young players and helps them come through.
“United have always produced players. It’s the city and the expectations, the coaches and staff and everything that comes together helps these young kids come through. If you ask anyone outside Sheffield United, I think they’d say it’s one of the best production lines in the country. And that includes Category One clubs.”
A shift in focus
Geary’s appointment comes just months after United signalled their intention to move the club towards a more self-sustainable model, emphasising homegrown players’ development and building on the previous good work done by the club’s academy.
The likes of Maguire and Walker have graduated from Shirecliffe to become established England internationals, while players such as Aaron Ramsdale and David Brooks have moved to the Premier League in recent years after coming through the ranks at Shirecliffe.
Late last year, a report revealed that United have received over £37.5m in transfer fees for graduates of its development programme since 2010 – but the aim at United is to get full value for those players playing for the Blades, rather than clubs higher up the footballing food chain.
“It’s important that there’s a pathway,” Geary added.
“Without the opportunity, everything blocks up at some stage. So right from the board down, there’s an onus to produce players.
“With that comes pressure, but that’s what this game’s all about. We’ve got a group of talented players and we’ve got to give them the best chance to come though here.
“It’s an exciting time, I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully we can produce. I’ve been here for a long time and the fans love to see young kids coming through, especially when it’s one of their own, Sheffield kids. So that’s the main aim and drive. Hopefully they can fulfil the career they dream of.”