The two young players Sheffield United hope could be destined for big things
Twelve months ago, as Sheffield United were successfully establishing a foothold in the Premier League after winning promotion from the Championship, a member of Chris Wilder’s backroom staff sat down with journalists and discussed how, over the course of the next few transfer windows, the club hoped its squad would develop.
Players including Oli McBurnie, Ben Osborn and Lys Mousset had just arrived at Bramall Lane. Sander Berge, as the coach in question suggested he might, would go on to join in January. Other players, some now in situ and others not, were also mentioned. But the name of someone United had just been loaned to Rochdale was also shoehorned into the conversation. Rhys Norrington-Davies, a Wales under-21 international and Steelphalt Academy graduate, had clearly captured the imagination of those working behind the scenes. Rather than being designed to simply keep him busy, the move to the Crown Oil Arena, otherwise known as Spotland, was viewed as an important part of a development programme which, if everything went well, would eventually see the youngster become a regular feature in United’s team.
Later this afternoon, when Wilder’s side play their final friendly of the summer against Preston North End, Norrington-Davies had been set to be granted an opportunity to accelerate the plan United’s manager and some of his closest confidants began devising after being alerted to his potential. Together with Regan Slater, who also impressed during Tuesday’s win over Derby County, he caught the eye at Pride Park. Slater is expected to feature in the home fixture but Norrington-Davies has now joined Luton Town on loan after United’s manager decided a season in the Championship would be more benefit his education more. Slater could also depart shortly, given Wilder’s preference for exposing up-and-coming talents to “proper men’s football.”
“It was invaluable experience for Rhys and Regan,” he said, reflecting upon the duo’s displays at Derby and detailing the reasons behind Norrington-Davies’ move. “Rhys, on the other side to Regan, it was the first time he’s played that position really and I thought he did well.
“Regan formed part of a little triangle with Bash and George. They’ll both have learnt a lot from being out there and it should really benefit them.”
Unlike Slater, who had already made his United debut before completing placements with Carlise and Scunthorpe, Norrington-Davies has yet to make a senior appearance after progressing through the youth system. But after making 34 outings for Rochdale - and 29 during a previous stint with Barrow - he will be well-placed to earn a call-up if he impresses at Kenilworth Road. Although United believe Norrington-Davies has the attributes to become one of the overlapping centre-halves in the manager’s 3-5-2 system, he operated in a slightly wider area of the pitch in the east Midlands; allowing him to work on his positional discipline and timing of his runs into advanced areas - all key attributes required to perform that role successfully.
“The more knowledge you can get, the more understanding, the better,” Wilder, who could welcome back O’Connell and John Lundstram at Preston, said. “They know what’s required.”