How Sheffield Wednesday cult hero helped Sheffield United striker forge Premier League path
Sheffield Wednesday cult hero recalls key role in Sheffield United striker's Premier League rise
When a young and raw Cameron Archer made the short hop across the second city in late 2020, Solihull Moors assistant boss James Quinn admits he had never heard of the Aston Villa youngster. "He came in and straightaway I was taken aback by his technical quality," Quinn remembers three years on. "A fantastic finisher with both feet. One of the best I've seen."
Quinn did not imagine that Archer would soon be at a level to command a transfer fee close to £20m and be a Premier League regular, following his move from Villa to Sheffield United earlier this summer, but isn't surprised either. "I think Hecky has a hell of a player on his hands," is the verdict of Quinn, on nickname terms with Paul Heckingbottom courtesy of their spell together at Sheffield Wednesday almost 20 years ago.
Archer had been a long-time target of the now-Blades boss for some time, with United's transfer embargo scuppering a January move and seeing Archer join their big promotion rivals Middlesbrough instead, and he finally got his man in the summer after Iliman Ndiaye's move to Marseille. After delays in the deal scuppered hopes of him making his debut against Manchester City, he instead marked his full Premier League debut with a fine finish against Everton, claiming an inadvertent assist for United's second goal that day as his curling effort hit the post, and then Jordan Pickford, before settling in the back of the net.
His other goal so far in United colours, a stunning finish off the bar against Wolves, was instrumental in the Blades picking up their first win of the Premier League season and he was close to making it two in two before the international break at Brighton, with Adam Webster getting there just before him to poke Jayden Bogle's cross into his own net. Archer's promising partnership with Oli McBurnie is set to be resurrected this weekend, when the Blades host relegation rivals Bournemouth at Bramall Lane, while Moors face a crunch clash of their own against fellow promotion hopefuls Altrincham.
"Emotionally, Cameron was very stable," Quinn adds of Archer's time with Moors, which brought four goals in 11 starts and a wealth of experience for a youngster willing to leave the home comforts of Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex for a spell in the National League. "If he missed a chance it didn't bother him and if he scored, he didn't get too high either. He'd go looking for the next one. He impressed massively from the first day he walked in. He was also such a humble, polite and quiet kid, who was a real pleasure to coach.
"There are not many who come into the physicality of the National League as a teenager and cope, but it didn't faze him. Not one bit. He gave as good as he got, to be honest with you. He was very brave and was like a little oak tree, for me. I saw a lot of good-sized defenders bounce off him because he was clever with the use of his body. He wasn't overawed at all. He took it all in his stride, and was just a really impressive young man."
Despite the inner confidence, however, such a move will no doubt have been a culture shock for an introverted and softly-spoken young man who appears infinitely more comfortable in front of goal than a microphone. "He was very quiet when he first came in," Quinn, a former Northern Ireland international, recalls. "We have one of the best training grounds outside of League One, I'd have thought, with everything on site. He wasn't coming into a ramshackle hut.
"But it still would have been difficult. He slowly grew into it, came out of his shell a little bit and he got on with everyone. His personality came out. Don't get me wrong, at the end of it he wasn't standing on tables and telling jokes. But he was very relaxed in the environment he was in, and that helps you as a player. We did a lot of finishing drills, either at the start or end of training, and he'd always join in. His finishing was deadly - left or right foot. You wouldn't be able to say which foot was his strongest, he was that good with either."
Quinn is rightly proud of Archer's development at Moors, which saw him return to Villa and make his Premier League debut just four months later. Successful loans at Preston and Middlesbrough followed, as did the European Championship with England's U21s earlier this summer, joining the likes of Barnsley's Andy Dallas, 6ft 9in Huddersfield Town striker Kyle Hudlin and Jake Beesley - son of former Blade Paul - as young players to have kicked on after spells at Damson Park.
"It's some story," agrees Quinn. "We've got a pretty good reputation for young players and developing them. Hopefully it gives some big clubs confidence to loan us some good ones they want to gain experience."
So what is his abiding memory of Archer? "I like his smile," Quinn admits. "He didn't say a lot but if you tickled him with a little comment you got a little smile and you thought: 'I've got him there. He likes that' You knew you'd done well. He didn't show too many emotions, to be fair to him. He kept himself to himself. But he was a joy to have around."