SIX players to watch from Sheffield United's academy after Slavisa Jokanovic's exciting youth admission

As The Star revealed this morning, Slavisa Jokanovic is prepared to rip up his recruitment plans this summer if one of Sheffield United’s promising young stars stakes a claim for a spot in his first team.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 11:25 am

Although an attacking midfielder and central defender are currently top of Jokanovic’s wish-list ahead of August 7’s opener against Birmingham City, the Serb has challenged members of the club’s academy programme to prove they are better than the targets he has identified.

United’s U23 side won their league title last season, before losing in the national play-off final, and there is genuine excitement at Bramall Lane that some of their talented crop of youngsters can make a real impression in a red and white shirt in years to come.

But who are the particular names to look out for from the academy? Let’s take a look at half a dozen for starters...

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Iliman Ndiaye

Born in France, Ndiaye is a product of the Rising Ballers academy and is a forward with all the tricks in the book, and an eye for goal.

One of the most recent debutants to emerge from United’s youth academy – his introduction off the bench was the only highlight of United’s 5-0 hammering at Leicester last season – Ndiaye came through the youth ranks at Boreham Wood.

He spent time on loan at Hyde United before coming through at United and was part of the squad that travelled to Spain for pre-season earlier this month.

Zak Brunt

Another player to have been involved in United’s senior squad last season, Brunt was born in Chesterfield but his route to Bramall Lane was not as straightforward as one might imagine.

His journey was detailed in journalist Michael Calvin’s book, No Hunger in Paradise. Brunt trained with United when he was a youngster, but after spells at clubs such as Aston Villa, Manchester City and Manchester United, Brunt and his father Glen grew disillusioned with the English youth set-up and flew to Spain.

There he caught the eye of Atletico Madrid - and the former Real Madrid star Guti - but was unable to sign for Atleti because of Fifa red tape.

Antwoine Hackford is Sheffield United's youngest ever Premier League player: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

He returned home and signed for Derby County, who placed a £120,000 bounty on his head with other clubs interested.

"Unless you're the next Cristiano Ronaldo, clubs don't want to pay £120,000 for a 15-year-old," Brunt said at the time. So he dropped into semi-professional football with Matlock Town, before signing for the Blades and penning a professional deal at Bramall Lane.

Femi Seriki

Antwoine Hackford played for United's U23s at 15: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

A winger by trade, Seriki started his career at Bury and was an ever-present as they reached the quarter-finals of the 2018-19 FA Youth Cup, losing to eventual winners Liverpool.

Seriki was left looking for a new club when Bury went bust, and he joined United. He has been deployed at right wing-back for the U23s of late and is also eligible to represent Nigeria at international level.

He made his first-team debut as a late substitute away at Newcastle last season, signing his first professional contract shortly after.

Kyron Gordon

The centre-back was reportedly on the radar of both Liverpool and Everton earlier this season.

Gordon travelled with United to Bristol Rovers for their FA Cup tie back in January and although he didn’t make it onto the pitch, will have learned from the experience – according to then-Blades boss Chris Wilder

Illiman Ndiaye scored twice against Wednesday on Friday: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I wanted to bring Kyron, because he's been involved with the first team a fair bit since pre-season,” Wilder said.

“He's done well and I thought we might have needed the type of qualities he brings,' Wilder said after their 3-2 victory against Bristol Rovers.

“I think he'll have learned so much from being in and around the lads on a matchday. We know what his attitude is like and it will have taught him a lot.”

Together with his brother Tyler Smith, Gordon played for United in their pre-season win over Europa Point recently and did himself no harm in terms of impressing the new manager.

Antwoine Hackford

United’s youngest-ever Premier League player, Hackford made his senior debut – at just 16 years of age – away at Crystal Palace last season, a reward for a goal-laden season that also saw him earn his first call-up to the England U17 squad.

Hackford, who had only recently completed his GCSEs at Sheffield's Springs Academy when he played for the first team, has been described as having electric pace by everyone who has seen him play.

His development has been advanced by playing in the age group above – he made his debut for United’s U18s at 14 years old, and he played for the U23s at 15 – and he has an eye for goal, too. He recently turned 17 and his proud brother, boxer Anthony Tomlinson, believes that Hackford’s success is proof that kids from a council estate – the pair grew up on Arbourthorne – can make something of themselves.

Daniel Jebbison

Another history maker, after becoming the youngest ever player to score on his full Premier League debut when he netted away at Everton last season.

There is genuine excitement around the Canadian-born young England star, who was also involved in United’s new kit launch recently – possibly giving an insight into his new-found status at Bramall Lane.

Like many before him, including Smith, Rhys Norrington-Davies and Regan Slater, Jebbison may be destined for an EFL loan soon if United’s coaches decide that is the best path of action for him.

The Blades may be gearing up for a Championship return – but the future looks bright in red and white.

Zak Brunt of Sheffield United celebrates scoring against QPR: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Femi Seriki of Sheffield United celebrates scoring: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Kyron Gordon is reportedly on the radar of Liverpool and Everton: Simon Bellis/Sportimage