Tonight’s PDL under-18 play-off final between Sheffield United and Charlton Athletic has assumed even greater significance following Nigel Adkins’ decision to place home-grown talent at the heart of his plans to revitalise the South Yorkshire club’s squad.
Adkins, who is scheduled to attend the match at The Valley (kick-off 7pm), last night confirmed plans to assemble a group of “10 first-team development players” tasked with supplementing the “senior group” ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.
The move, which forms part of United’s response to the abolition of emergency loans, could lead to even greater opportunities for Steelphalt Academy graduates next season following the emergence of Ben Whiteman, Graham Kelly and Dominic Calvert-Lewin last term. Assuming, of course, Adkins continues in his post.
Having cited a bloated playing staff as a factor behind United’s disappointing showing in League One, Adkins said: “I’m looking at a group of 20 players and a development group of 10. We can’t be relying on loans next season. And we don’t want to be either. We want to be playing our own.”
“We had a big change around with the younger lads in January to try and create that pathway,” Adkins continued. “Also, to give people and opportunity to get careers elsewhere, to find a living at whatever level that is at. We are also doing a few trialist games with lads who have been released from elsewhere. We’ve reduced the numbers because we don’t want numbers, we want that elite group. Our lads have done ever so well.”
With United’s under-21s also reaching the PDL play-off final - they host Huddersfield Town this weekend - Adkins and his assistants are expected to hold a series of meetings with academy coaches Travis Binnion and John Dungworth over the coming months as part of a drive to ease the transition between youth and first-team football.
United handed professional contracts to a number of graduates, including Aaron Ramsdale, Shea Gordon and Kimarni Smith, on Friday afternoon while Connor Hall and Nathaniel Crofts have also agreed new deals.
“You’ve got John Dungworth, Travis Binnion and Mick Wadsworth helping in the background,” Adkins said. “It’s easy just to throw them all in but it has to be at the right time. Sometimes you’ve just got to put them in to see. You can be technically brilliant, which is great, but this is also a physical competition as well and you have to be ready for that.”