Sheffield United: Innovative solution being considered for training ground problem

Sheffield United’s efforts to improve the training conditions of both their senior and development players could see the club adopt a ‘two base’ approach if a suitable location can be found near their current centre in Shirecliffe.

Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 3:00 pm

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The Star understands that senior figures at Bramall Lane are investigating the possibility of building a new complex, exclusively for the use of Paul Heckingbottom’s first team squad, whilst allowing their under-23 and age group programmes to remain at the Randox Health Academy.

However the plan, which mirrors the way several top-flight sides including Arsenal and West Ham work, will only be triggered if planning permission is obtained for a completely new facility within either walking distance or a short drive of their present site within the northern suburbs of the city.

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Paul Heckingbottom at Sheffield United's Randox Health Academy: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Officials tasked with overseeing the project believe the idea could be a cost effective solution to a problem which has troubled the club since Heckingbottom’s predecessors Chris Wilder and Slavisa Jokanovic both complained about conditions at the RHA.

Although Heckingbottom has been more diplomatic about the situation, the 44-year-old also expressed concerns about the state of its pitches towards the end of last season, telling journalists they were “unusable” during a spell of bad weather following the Christmas period.

Sheffield United's chief executive Steve Bettis: Scott Merrylees

“It might be possible, if somewhere near where we are at the moment can be found, to operate two different training bases,” a source explained. “If you could, let’s say, walk between them or make the journey in a buggy or van, that might be viable. The first team could move into somewhere new and the academy could take over the entirety of where we are now.”

“But it would only work if they were close, right on each other's doorstep,” they continued. “That way, you could maintain good communication and also ensure it is still easy for young lads, if the manager wants them to take part in first team training, to be called up quickly. It’s not a definite. But it is something that might be worth looking at, and others are doing something similar right now.”

The alternatives

Despite receiving a takeover offer from American businessman Henry Mauriss, which is still awaiting clearance from the English Football League, United’s board of directors are pressing ahead with efforts to overhaul their training ground ahead of the new campaign.

Former Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Having outlined a desire to see their youth system obtain category one status, they recognise the RHA is too small to house the number of playing surfaces required to gain that ranking and also meet the needs of Heckingbottom’s charges.

United’s hierarchy are still attempting to identify possible locations for a completely new complex within South Yorkshire, which would see the academy and professional programmes remain under one roof. But the idea of splitting them is thought to have gained traction following the collapse of one potential deal due to planning and purchase issues.

Heckingbottom and Steve Bettis, United’s chief executive, recently confirmed that work to overhaul the RHA’s playing surfaces is expected to be completed before the winter; with new drainage systems being installed and the slope on pitches towards the bottom of the site being removed.