Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, has outlined the challenges youngsters such as Ben Whiteman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin face as they seek to establish themselves at senior level.
Whiteman became the latest Steelphalt Academy graduate to represent the League One club this season when he appeared as a second-half substitute against Burton Albion in midweek with Calvert-Lewin, who also progressed through United’s youth system, also featuring after the break.
Although Whiteman’s performances at under-21 level were recognised by Adkins and his staff earlier this year when they began the process of intergrating him into the first team squad, the former Southampton and Scunthorpe chief revealed he was only considered for selection after passing a series of rigorous tests during its training sessions.
“The lads have got to demonstrate their qualities when they come up,” Adkins explained. “Because the older players will recognise that ‘this lad might potentially take my place.’
“That’s something you’ve got to consider, make sure the environment is right. But I must say the first team lads have been excellent. I’ve reminded them all that they were all in this position once.”
As Adkins wrestles with the conundrum of how to best balance United’s proud record of producing home-grown players with the need to revitalise their faltering top six challenge, Whiteman and Calvert-Lewin are nevertheless poised to feature in the squad which visits Fleetwood Town tomorrow.
Elaborating further on his strategy for identifying which academy graduates are capable of making the grade, Adkins said: “Can they deal with the environment. Can they express themselves?
“Then, sometimes, put them back in the under-21’s for a bit and see if they can apply the standards that are required at that level?”
“Reducing the size of the squad gives them an opportunity, it gives them a pathway,” Adkins, confirming goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has also impressed behind the scenes, added. “We’re really pleased with Ben and hopefully, training with the first team a lot more now will develop him.
“Aaron came to Rochdale with us and you’ll see him during the warm-ups now. We’re lucky, with him, George Long and Jake Eastham, that we’ve got three really good young goalkeepers. Then there’s the experience of Mark Howard too.”