The links of Aaron Ramsdale, Conor Coady, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to Sheffield United are well-known. But what has gone under the radar a little is the fact that another man formerly of Bramall Lane has played a key role in England’s resurgence under Southgate in recent years.
Ian Mitchell spent two seasons working at United under Dave Bassett in the mid 1990s. At the time, he was combining the role as sports scientist with his own playing career before a bad injury ended it. He became a lecturer in psychology at Cardiff Metropolitan university, before moving back into football at Swansea.
After a successful spell with the Wales senior team, including their run to the semi-finals of the 2016 Euros, Mitchell linked up with England and in 2019 became the FA’s head of performance psychology.
Mitchell is understood to have been influential in Southgate’s decision to embrace the media in recent years, with players encouraged to not see journalists and reports as enemies and instead share their stories. Maguire confided in Mitchell after his high-profile incident in Greece last year, which he admitted this week was a difficult time in his career.
The culture around the England squad has never seen more inclusive and positive, as Southgate’s men prepare for their third semi-final in four years and look to seal a place in their first major final since the 1966 World Cup.
His work at United only further highlights how far ahead of his time Bassett was. Often unfairly tagged as a long-ball merchant, those who have played under Bassett point to his methods actually being quite forward-thinking and he was one of the first managers to really embrace the benefits of sports science and fitness.
Ed Baranowski was hired as a full-time fitness coach, with players reporting to Don Valley for fitness and weight training. Mitchell, for his part, has described Bassett previously as “a good guy, very forward thinking”. And if United do win the Euros, there is another South Yorkshire connection who will have helped them along the way.