Sheffield United: By George, Gareth helps United

George Long in action for Sheffield United earlier this term � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
George Long in action for Sheffield United earlier this term � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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George Long, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, has confirmed he did not incur England under-21 coach Gareth Southgate’s wrath by missing the European Championship qualifier against Lithuania earlier this month, writes James Shield.

Long, who is expected to start today’s League One fixture with Crewe Alexandra, was granted leave of absence from the Young Lions’ training camp at St George’s Park after being asked to represent his club against Coventry City.

Denying Southgate could look upon his actions unfavourably when the next international squad is announced, Long told The Star: “Gareth was really keen for me to play in that game. He wanted me to be involved because he knew it was an important match and, after all, playing games is the best experience you can get.

“I was on the bench for the match with San Marino a few days before and Gareth let me leave the training camp early so that I could take part at Sixfields. I thought it was really good he encouraged me to do that.

“There was no problem at all. It was his idea.”

Long, aged 19, was the only domestic based player plying his trade below the Championship to feature in Southgate’s 24 strong party.

Despite being named among the substitues since being selected for August’s friendly with Scotland, he said: “Working with the under-21’s can only help me improve and get better. It all helps to add to my experience.

“I’m fortunate to work with some great people at United every single day and, although a lot of the ideas are the same with England, everyone puts their own little twist on things so you pick new stuff up all the time.

“I’m really proud to be involved with my country and I just want to keep on learning different things and be the best I possibly can.”

With new manager Nigel Clough insisting “everyone starts with a clean slate” after taking charge of United earlier this week, Long acknowledges the former Liverpool and Nottingham Forest centre-forward’s presence means he must prove himself all over again.

Despite preparing to make his 62nd senior appearance when Crewe visit South Yorkshire later today, Long said: “Obviously everyone wants to make a good impression because we all want to be in the team.

“There’s nothing worse, in my book at least, than not being involved at all when you are a footballer. Than working hard all week and then not even being on the team sheet.

“That’s why I’m so focused on doing well for United. Because, especially at this stage of my career, nothing can beat actually playing games and the rest stems from that.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1