The man who has Sheffield Wednesday's future in his hands
Steve Haslam knows what it takes to come through the youth ranks at Sheffield Wednesday and make a name for yourself in blue and white stripes – now he’s looking to form Owls of the future from his role in the youth academy.
Sheffield born and bred, Haslam made his debut for Wednesday in 1999 – aged just 19 – when he started against Liverpool in a 1-0 victory prior to finishing 12th under Danny Wilson.
Fast forward more than 20 years, and the former defender is now the Academy Manager at Middlewood Road as he seeks to help shape the stars of tomorrow and add to the arsenal of Garry Monk and Wednesday managers in years to come.
“The system back then was very different to what it is now,” he recalls to The Star. “It was like Centre of Excellence days, you signed schoolboy forms at 14 and obviously joined the Youth Training Scheme when you finished school. Things have changed in terms of how academies now are different from the system back then.”
Though things have changed since his days in the Wednesday academy, Haslam has already overseen plenty of success since taking on his current role, watching both the U23s and U18s win numerous national trophies under his watch.
Now, with the likes of Osaze Urhoghide, Alex Hunt, Ben Hughes and others knocking on the door of the first team, the 40-year-old has spoken about how they’re trying to cultivate an atmosphere that can see young players progress and thrive moving forward.
Haslam explained, “There’s a culture and environment that we try to foster at the academy in terms of the staff and how they work with the players, and I think we’ve just tried to leave no stone unturned in how we coach, how we deliver things, our recruitment, the sports science and analysis, and the support we offer to players as well.
“It’s all come together with success at youth level, but our main overriding goal as an academy is to produce players that can go on and play for our first team.”
But in a multi-billion pound industry like football, is there an aspect of helping boost a club’s finances off the pitch as well as making sure they have talent to call on upon it? For Haslam, it’s about equilibrium.
“I think you have to balance the both,” he says. “The club invests in the academy, so we have to look at what we spend and what we bring back in in terms of selling players or the value they bring to the first team. It’s only right that it’s viewed from a business perspective as well as a football perspective.”
So with that in mind, what do they look for when scouting young talents? Is there a ‘Wednesday Way’? Haslam admits that ultimately that is the ‘golden question’, but insists that every single prospect needs to be given the specific treatment that he needs to kick on.
“To prepare well and give your all is very simple advice,” he said. “But it’s a key message that we try and instil in the players of all ages. If you can prepare the best that you can, and then give your all whether it’s training, playing, gym work or analysis, then you give yourself the best chance of being successful.
“Youth development is complex. Every player and pathway is unique, and what you need to be effective at first team level can be so different. Obviously the ability to handle a ball and be technically competent is a major plus point, but alongside that there’s physical aspects that you’re looking for that are difficult to predict and be accurate about when you’re dealing with players who are still going through growth periods.
“A lot of academy staff put a lot of unseen hard slog behind the scenes in terms of trying to help these young lads on their pathway, and obviously it’s an industry where not many will come through. It will always be the few. So when you see somebody really progress, and go on to play for your first team, of course it’s a proud moment – and you’re willing them on to go on and do themselves justice.”
And with Urhoghide and Hunt having already made their senior debuts this season, and others such as Hughes, Preslav Borukov and Conor Grant making matchday squads, Monk is clearly keeping an eye on SWFC’s future – something he’s regularly mentioned in his press conferences.
Haslam has backed that up notion, saying, “We have regular chats and meetings. You’ve seen that he’s integrated a number of young boys, not just the ones who have played, behind the scenes, and they’re working and developing alongside the first team players. That is fantastic experience for them, and a great way of developing those that are on the cusp of making the first team squad.
“He’s been very welcoming of what we’re trying to do at academy level, and trying to integrate that with his plans at first team level.
“It’ll be interesting to see how much our lads can kick on and what kind of impact they can have. Then there’s some boys in the younger groups that we’re really excited about, but obviously in youth development it’s all about being patient and having a long-term view on things.”
Academy products like Liam Palmer, Cameron Dawson and Joe Wildsmith are three that have progressed through the ranks to become familiar faces at Hillsborough in recent years, and Haslam will be eager to see some players from the double-winning Class of 2019 follow in their footsteps in the years to come.