Sheffield United: They share a kit, a simlarly-sized ground and an academy ethos. So what can the Blades learn from their cup conquests, Southampton?

Jim Phipps
Jim Phipps
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The similarities, even before they were pitched together in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup quarter-final, are obvious.

Two sides who play in red-and-white, and in 32,000-seater stadiums in a two-club region. Who place huge emphasis on their youth academy, and have recently sold home-grown gems for big profit.

And, after both being taken over by foreign investors, both survived brief flirtations with relegation to finish seventh in League One in recent years.

So it is little wonder, as co-chairman Jim Phipps told The Star, that Sheffield United have identified Southampton’s business model as one to learn from - and try to emulate.

The Saints, currently fifth in the Premier League table, were promoted from League One as recently as 2011, producing England internationals including Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana along the way.

And Phipps, for one, is a fan of their ascent.

“Southampton are a very good model, for us and for a lot of other clubs,” the American told this newspaper, at the Copthorne Hotel adjoining Bramall Lane.

“Sheffield United is similarly based on having an organic academy which produces a volume of players for the first team and, overall, we’re ranked very highly amongst English Premier League and Football League clubs.

“And in terms of putting players into Premier League sides, we’re amongst the best in the country. So Tuesday’s match was an interesting one because it brought together two fairly similar clubs, and we’d do well to take a page from their story.”

The Saints dropped down into League One back in 2009, after going into administration. After starting the season with a ten-point deduction Markus Liebherr took over the club, they recovered and finished seventh, just missing out on a play-off spot. The following season they won promotion to the Championship and went straight up to the Premier League.

“The similarities are there,” Phipps, who arrived in South Yorkshire after Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad acquired a 50 per cent stake in United, added.

“If you look back a few seasons, Southampton were where we are now and maybe even a touch below. They struggled in their first season before ending up just outside the play-offs, and they were maybe just a shade behind us at this stage the season after, before they went on the run which took them up.

“Like us, they have produced a lot of players for the England team and, also like us, they have passionate fans and are an organic, ‘proper’ football club.

“Although I do think our fans are better!”

United must now put all thoughts of their second successive major cup semi-final to one side, with a return to League One action, against Walsall at Bramall Lane on Saturday, on the horizon.

Clough’s side remain fifth in the League One standings, nine points behind second-placed Swindon - but Phipps remains confident that United are capable of emulating their South Coast cousins once more, and achieving a top-two finish.

“When they went on their climb, they were a little bit behind where we are, at this stage of the season with 20 games played,” Phipps said.

“So for those negative Nellies out there who are always looking for something to grumble about, I urge them to remember that there is a great deal of precedent in this situation.

“A number of teams have ended up promoted from a similar position to ours right now.

“Once a team goes up to the Championship, it is rarer for them to make the next step straight into the Premier League.

“But Southampton have shown that it can, in fact, be done.”