Sheffield United: Former Academy boss Ron Reid picks his One to Eleven of Blades graduates that would 'more than hold their own at Premier League level'

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It started with an idea spawned during a night in front of the television and ended with a team containing some of the most expensive and sought-after talents in British football.

The only thing it didn't have was a name. But rather than invent something witty, a moniker which distracted from the quality, Ron Reid simply decided to call them his 'One to Eleven'.

"I was watching that programme, where Paul Merson gets other people to pick the best they ever worked with, and thought I'd do something similar," Reid says. "I knew there'd be some good ones, lads that we all brought through. But when you put them down on paper, well, I think they'd be able to more than hold their own at Premier League level if they were all still young enough now."

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Sheffield United: Ron Reid's Blades graduates One to Eleven - why he chose them
Ron Reid pictured with some new professionals taken on by Sheffield United including a couple of well-known facesRon Reid pictured with some new professionals taken on by Sheffield United including a couple of well-known faces
Ron Reid pictured with some new professionals taken on by Sheffield United including a couple of well-known faces

Reid spreads his notes out on the table as we talk inside a city centre cafe, revealing they contain details of every player's league appearances, goal record and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, international caps. They have been compiled with the same attention to detail which, during his spell at Bramall Lane, helped Sheffield United's academy become one of the best finishing schools in the business. A place which churns out more gifted youngsters than many top-flight clubs put together and, until housing, schooling and jobs became weapons in the recruitment market, made it one of the 'go to' destinations for aspiring professionals.

Although David Brooks is arguably the last household name to progress through their youth system - now valued at around £30m, the AFC Bournemouth midfielder regularly appears for Wales - Reid's squad, which also contains 12 people vying to become substitutes, confirms United have history in this particular sphere. Nick Montgomery, Michael Tonge and Phil Jagielka, now back in South Yorkshire following 12 years with Everton, formed the first wave of graduates to become first team regulars. Billy Sharp, who could feature for Chris Wilder's side at Watford this weekend, followed in their footsteps together with Kyle Naughton and Matthew Lowton. The two stand-out figures, however, are Harry Maguire and Kyle Naughton. The latter became the costliest defender in world football after swapping Tottenham Hotspur for Manchester City two years ago. Maguire now holds that title, with Manchester United paying Leicester City around £80m to sign him during the summer transfer window.

"I remember everyone saying Harry wasn't quick enough, that he'd get caught out and stuff like that," Reid continues, tracing the centre-half's journey from United to Old Trafford via Hull City and the Midlands. "It was rubbish of course, he's quicker than he looks and, more importantly, he was always quick in his head. Very early on, you could tell he was really, really capable of reading a game or move. Harry's obviously playing for England now and, knowing the character he is, I can see him going on to captain both."

Reid, reminding me of the time he predicted Walker would play for England before making his United debut, was similarly convinced about the 29-year-old qualities. But his faith, despite being supported by other staff members, did not always persuade Walker himself.

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Ron Reid during his time in charge of United's Academy Ron Reid during his time in charge of United's Academy
Ron Reid during his time in charge of United's Academy

"There was a period when Kyle was really down about things," Reid says, smiling at the memory. "He'd gone into the reserves but that whole system, the reserve team league, was a real mess at the time and there were hardly any games. There'd be times when you'd be lucky to get one every three weeks, stuff like that.

"The trouble was, he was too old to go the level below and too good not to be involved. So we put him in there anyway as an overage player and I can remember one game against Crewe, when Noel Blake, who was England under-19's coach at the time, was also there.

"Noel came straight over and asked who Kyle was. I was up front with him, telling he really should have been in the level above but Noel said he didn't care at all and that he'd be in his next squad. I didn't tell Kyle that, obviously, but sure enough, on the Monday, he was in and then I could. The rest, as they say, is history."

Walker, now aged 29, owns nearly 50 senior caps and represented England at two major tournament finals. Maguire and Jagielka have represented the Three Lions too. But curiously it is one of only two players in Reid's fantasy eleven not to have been recognised by their country of which he is most proud.

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Manchesre United's Harry Maguire (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)Manchesre United's Harry Maguire (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Manchesre United's Harry Maguire (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

"People might find this strange but, if you ask me that question, I'd always reply 'Matty Lowton'," Reid says. "That's because of how hard he had to work to get to where he is, he never gave up, stuck with it when others might have thrown the towel in and now he's a Premier League footballer (with Burnley).

"When everyone else around him turned pro', admittedly we weren't still quite sure about him but we knew there was something there. So we gave him a sort of extended scholarship. You'd have got a few lads who might have turned that down but he didn't. Matty just got his head down and now he's getting the rewards for that. It's brilliant to see and I'm really proud of him."

After joining United's coaching staff in 2000, Reid eventually took charge of their youth programme when John Warnock, the brother of Wilder's predecessor Neil, helped deliver academy status two years later. It proved to be a turning point in the history of the club; both in a sporting and, given the fees they recouped when players moved, a financial sense too.

The fact that only two of Reid's selections are at United's disposal now - albeit both rejoining following spells elsewhere - highlights one of the biggest problems which faced the club until, after winning promotion last term, it returned to the highest level. So long as they were in the Championship or League One, where they had spent five years before Wilder's appointment, United knew their best young players would always be lured elsewhere.

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Kyle Walker in action for EnglandKyle Walker in action for England
Kyle Walker in action for England

Another of Reid's anecdotes highlights the importance of retaining Premier League status.

"As a staff, we always said our dream was to see half of the first team being former academy players. There were times, the last time we were up there, when we got pretty close as well. Especially when Nicky Law came through, he made his debut against Manchester United. If you're up there, then it's easier to keep hold of people. That goes without saying. If you're not, then it can be tough."

Now retired, Reid is still a regular visitor to United and first unveiled his own 'One to Eleven' there before a recent fixture.

"I was talking to Derek French, who does pre-match hospitality, and told him what I'd come up with. So he invited me along to talk about it before one of the games."

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Jack Lester, who was appointed as United's new academy manager over the summer, would have been an interested member of the audience had his schedule allowed. After working with young players at Nottingham Forest, Notts County and the Football Association of Wales, the former United centre-forward is now tasked with ensuring United's proud legacy continues.

"One of the things we always tried to do is make sure we didn't just produce good footballers, but also good people," Reid says, before emptying his mug. "That's something United have always been good at. It's just that kind of club."

Manchester City's Kyle Walker celebrates with the trophy lid after winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Mike Egerton/PA Wire.Manchester City's Kyle Walker celebrates with the trophy lid after winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Kyle Walker celebrates with the trophy lid after winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Mike Egerton/PA Wire.


Goalkeeper: George Long

Back Three: Kyle Walker, Phil Jagielka, Harry Maguire

Wing-backs: Matty Lowton, Kyle Naughton

Midfield: Michael Tonge, Nick Montgomery, Stephen Quinn

Strikers: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Billy Sharp

Substitutes: Kyle McFadzean, Callum McFadzean, Kevan Hurst, Nicky Law, Ryan Cresswell, Chris Robertson, Ben Purkiss, Jacob Mellis, Jonathan Forte, Louis Reed, Evan Horwood, Maxime Chanot.