Jay McEveley has revealed how old-fashioned values, including attitude and humility, have helped Sheffield United’s latest wave of academy graduates earn the respect of senior professionals at Bramall Lane.
Nigel Adkins named seven home-grown players in the squad which faced Crewe Alexandra three days ago with two, Ben Whiteman and Louis Reed, combining to create an 87th minute winner for Billy Sharp.
Adkins recently outlined plans to ensure “50 per cent” of the options at his disposal have progressed through the club’s youth system “in the short to medium term.”
After observing the strides made by the likes of Whiteman, Graham Kelly and Dominic Calvert-Lewin at close quarters, McEveley has endorsed the reasoning behind Adkins’ ambitious target but told The Star it is the approach, not the ability, of United’s youngsters which has impressed most behind the scenes.
“You can’t come into the first team with the wrong attitude,” McEveley, the United captain, said. “Times have changed but, still, you can’t come in thinking you are Billy Big B******s or anything like that. But all of the young lads who have come into that dressing room now have the right attitude about them. They are confident but they work hard every single day in training and are willing to listen and learn.”
Although Whiteman, Kelly and David Brooks, an unused substitute against Crewe, are being granted opportunities to impress, Italy youth international Diego De Girolamo has again struggled to make an impact following another low key season.
The centre-forward used Twitter to vent his frustration at the situation last week with the post - “What more can you do #Shambles” - still appearing on his timeline yesterday.
Although Adkins, together with his predecessors Danny Wilson and Nigel Clough, does not dispute De Girolamo’s ability, doubts have been expressed about his manner behind the scenes.
Staff are known to have taken a dim view of his outburst on social media and, given McEveley’s comments about the importance of attitude, senior members of the first team squad are also thought to be unimpressed.
Mansfield Town expressed an interest in acquiring De Girolamo’s services before the deadline for emergency loan signings but with a move to Field Mill failing to transpire and an unnamed non-league club his only other alternative, the 20-year-old must now rebuild bridges after agreeing a new 24 month contract during the close season.
McEveley, acknowledging the emergence of Whiteman and Calvert-Lewin has brought a fresh dynamic to United’s play as they attempt to secure a top fix finish, said: “That bit of youth, there’s no pressure on them. I remember coming through myself and you know that everybody wants you to do well because you’ve come through the academy. It’s a nice feeling to have.
“We know they are good players, they wouldn’t be here otherwise. We try and give them instructions but, the main one is, for them just to go out there and express themselves.”
“It was a great goal, the winner (against Crewe) and we’ve worked on that, penning teams in,” McEveley added. “It was an unbelievable ball from Ben, an unbelievable ball from Louis and then Billy has put it in well.”