James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The false economy of selling young players
Well knock me down with a feather. A Premier League club, Everton to be specific, has submitted a bid for Damiel Jebbison.
Who would have believed it? Other than anyone and everyone with a passing interest in English football and the legislation it introduced post Brexit. I remember writing several months ago, when Sheffield United were still a top-flight side, that the development squads in the EFL would be plundered by the biggest and most minted names in the country because they could no longer cherry-pick talent from abroad. Ideally United would still be among them. But they’re not. And they’re vulnerable to this type of manoeuvre after being relegated last season.
Let;s no beat about the bush. The idea of selling someone who has barely appeared in their first team might be a tempting proposition for the power brokers at Bramall Lane. Particularly given United are essentially a self-financing operation and, as such, are clearly struggling to cash after waving goodbye to elite level status and the riches that it brings. Either than or the painfully slow progress they are making when it comes to bolstering Slavisa Jokanovic’s options is down to a difference of opinion about recruitment - or sheer ineptitude - behind the scenes.
But if United need any reminding about the danger of cashing in on the likes of Jebbison, who speaking before Saturday’s visit to Luton Town was described as an England international of the future by his manager, they only need scroll back five years and study the progress of another gifted teenager they sold to Goodison Park: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has now done what Jokanovic thinks Jebbison is also capable of and been capped by the Three Lions.
The Serb’s predecessor Chris Wilder reluctantly sacrificed Calvert-Lewin at the beginning of his reign, using the money United received to help build the starting eleven which went on to win two promotions. Because of that, some people will argue it was the right decision. Except it wasn’t. The fee United received - which sources on Merseyside insist was way below the near £1m quoted at the time - meant it was a classic false economy. Now worth probably somewhere north of £50m, United let him go for a pittance. And they have since spent way more than that trying to find a replacement with even half Calvert-Lewin’s quality.
Many folk reading this will probably be screaming at their newspaper or computer screen right now. They’ll probably be accusing me of ignoring the fact that, like Aaron Ramsdale who recently joined Arsenal, Calvert-Lewin’s ability meant he would have outgrown United long before they reached the highest level themselves 27 months ago. And they’re right. I don’t dispute that. But if United had held firm for just a little bit longer, they’d have got a damn sight more for him than a handful of peanuts.
Speaking of false economies, United must ensure Ramsdale’s switch to north London does not become another one. Well, make that an even bigger one. Because by the time they’ve brought in a replacement on loan - and then signed a permanent successor next summer - they’ll almost certainly have forked-out more than the profit they made on the deal. Dress it up however you want. But you’ll never persuade me United haven’t just got the smelly end of the stick.
When it became apparent that Ramsdale was destined for the capital, United began briefing privately that the lad wanted to go. He did and, from what I’m told, in the most forcible way possible without totally trashing his relationship with the club where he turned pro before returning last summer following a spell with AFC Bournemouth. The same was said about Calvert-Lewin, although those who were party to his negotiations with Everton confirm he was far less strident when it came to voicing an opinion.
We’re always told ‘The lad wants out’ in situations like this. And in most cases, they do. But as Daniel Levy has just demonstrated, it is possible to keep an unsettled employee providing they are under contract. And Harry Kane, who wanted to join Manchester City to win medals and trophies, was motivated by something far stronger than money. He’s already a millionaire, countless times over, after all. I don’t buy the argument about it being a short career either, which is so often trotted out by directors, players, agents and coaching staff alike, whenever they need to disguise the fact they are simply grabbing the money. Yes, serious injury could strike at any moment. But if that’s really at the forefront of your mind - and boxers seem perfectly capable of putting it to the back - then you’d never train or take part in a game. Just for the record, I’m not accusing Ramsdale of chasing dosh. Just in case anyone fancies making a little bit of mischief.
United have already seen two supremely gifted athletes leave South Yorkshire in recent years. They must not, unless someone makes a ridiculous offer for Jebbison, make that three. And even three or four times the £5m which has supposedly been tabled falls into that category. They should make it plain they aren’t doing business no matter what. Show some backbone, foresight and willingness to take care of the future rather than just the here and now.
Because otherwise they’ll derive no benefit whatsoever from the fine work being done at the Steelphalt Academy. And the damage done to morale on the terraces will be incalculable.