In this era of rigid systems and suffocating tactics, David Brooks’ approach to football is a breath of fresh air.
But after leaving Sheffield Wednesday’s defence with an acute case of twisted blood following Sunday’s Steel City derby, the Sheffield United youngster, who plays with the freedom of a kid having a knockabout in the schoolyard, was reminded that his newfound status brings serious responsibilities.
“David just does what he does,” Chris Wilder said, when asked to assess his performance. “We see that every time he goes out on the training pitch. But he should have scored out there and I told him that when he came off. Instead of clapping our fans, he should have put the ball in the back of the net.”
Although he quickly steered the conversation back to more upbeat matters, United’s manager was presumably referring to the moment Brooks, after being presented with a shooting opportunity towards the end of the 4-2 victory, found the upper tier of the Leppings Lane End rather than the back of Kieren Westwood’s net. Having spend the entire afternoon bewitching, beguiling and, in the case of poor Jack Hunt, embarrassing the opposition at Hillsborough, Wilder’s decision to highlight a rare mistake might seem harsh. But, ahead of tonight’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, his attempt to focus the 20-year-old’s mind makes perfect sense. Nuno Espírito Santo and his coaching staff were already aware of Brooks’ talents. But last weekend’s performance, beamed live across the nation by SKY’s television cameras, means the message about the threat he poses will resonate even more when it is relayed to the Portuguese’s players.
Despite his rapid progress in recent months, Brooks, aged 20, is still far from the finished article. Indeed, it was his positional error which allowed Lucas João to briefly drag Wednesday level after John Fleck and Leon Clarke had put United in the driving seat. Wilder’s challenge, and indeed that of Wales under-21 coach Robert Page following his decision to commit his future to the FAW, is to develop that side of Brooks’ game without stifling his creative instincts.
“David deserved to be in there,” Wilder said. “He’s really level-headed. I have to manage him correctly, also from a physical point of view. But for him to do what he did, in that environment, he’s clearly got a superb future in the game.”