DANNY Wilson, the Sheffield United manager, has reaffirmed his commitment to developing young players.
But Wilson, who praised George Long for his “mature display” against Leyton Orient last weekend, warned the teenage goalkeeper’s contemporaries they will be subject to the same scrutiny as a seasoned professional before being considered for first team duty.
United have placed Bramall Lane’s youth system at the heart of their response to the financial challenges being faced by Football League clubs with nine graduates appearing at senior level since Wilson’s appointment in May last year.
“The emphasis we give to bringing our own lads though is well documented,” he said. “It’s something I support.
“They will be given opportunities. But they must also prove themselves. They’ve got to show in the matches that they play that they are ready for that step up.”
With category one academies requiring annual funding of nearly £2.5m, United have been awarded category two status under the new four-tier system introduced by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
That entitles staff to coach youngsters from the age of four and upwards, compared to 11 and 16 in groups three and four.
Significantly, the rule which limited them to talent living within 90 minutes of their Shirecliffe training complex has also been abolished although this means clubs such as Manchester United and Manchester City can now openly recruit from the South Yorkshire region.
United, required by EPPP to invest £969,000 in their academy, recently announced that Central Coast Mariners youth coach Tony Walmsley has accepted an offer to become Shirecliffe’s head of recruitment; a post which covers responsibility for scouting and internal strategy.
Jamie Hoyland, the former United midfielder, is now professional development head coach with responsibility for the under-18s.
However, despite the new arrivals, The Star understands there are no immediate plans to replace Julian Winter who recently left his job as United’s chief executive.
“The whole landscape of player recruitment has changed under EPPP,” John Stephenson, United’s head of football operations, confirmed last month.
“These regulations allow academies at category one level to recruit players at fixed compensation costs from those academies at a lower categorisation from anywhere in England.
“Tony Walmsley has a terrific reputation and will be vital in implementing strategies that minimise our risk from predatory clubs as well as extensively boosting our own recruitment coverage,” Stephenson added.
Together with other category two clubs, including Brighton, Coventry City and Crystal Palace, United will receive around £480,000 worth of funding from the Premier League.
Wilson’s side climbed to third in the League One table on Saturday when Long, an 11th minute substitute for the injured Mark Howard, helped them beat Leyon Orient.