Why Sheffield United and Chelsea's Ethan Ampadu could be made for one another
It is easy to forget, with a high profile move to Chelsea and 15 senior international caps already on his footballing CV, that Ethan Ampadu does not turn 20 until Monday.
The defender, who is also an accomplished midfielder in the ‘Aaron Ramsey’ mould, will be spending it representing Sheffield United at Bramall Lane after joining Chris Wilder’s side on a season long loan. The match marks the beginning of a process which, although it will not define the youngster’s career, is certain to shape how the next chapter will unfold.
So why have United, who by Wilder’s own admission must punch consistently above their weight to prospect in the Premier League, chosen to invest time - and a significant portion of their recruitment budget, given the existence of a facility fee - in a footballer who, inevitably given his age, is still far from the finished article? The reason is talent. Together with the knowledge, if Ampadu proves a success and settles in South Yorkshire, they will be well-placed to build a longer term relationship with a player who, given how highly he is regarded at Stamford Bridge, would otherwise be outside of their price range.
Like former West Bromwich Albion forward Oliver Burke, who is set to be officially presented to the media by United later this week, Ampadu possesses the type of skill which leaves usually cynical old pro’s and former managers purring. But also like Burke, he has struggled to put down roots at domestic level since moving to west London as a 16-year-old - spending his first two seasons there, after leaving Exeter City, studying Antonio Rudiger, Mateo Kovacic and Andreas Christensen before joining RB Leipzig on loan last term. Together with Burke, who spent 12 months in Saxony before returning to England, Ampadu found his time there a bitter/sweet experience - failing to play as much as either he or Chelsea would have liked but benefitting both professionally and personally, after being exposed to different methods and living away from home.
Although Wilder primarily views Ampadu as a centre-half, his ability to operate further upfield will be an attraction for the United manager - particularly given the teenager’s comfort in possession and passing range; qualities which have prompted some observers in Wales, the country he represents, to draw comparisons with Ramsey, even though the Juventus midfielder is more attack-minded.
On the part of Ampadu and Chelsea, who with Thiago Silva now in situ could be tempted to renew their agreement with United if it goes well, they are likely to have noted how Dean Henderson developed during his two seasons on loan under Wilder. The goalkeeper, now back at Manchester United, arrived having never appeared higher than League One. He departed a permanent fixture in England’s senior squad and being tipped to succeed David de Gea at Old Trafford.