FIRST there was John Harkes.
Then came Frankie Simek.
And in future years there may be other American stars heading Sheffield Wednesday’s way.
The Owls’ links with the USA and Canada have been strengthened with the launch of their North American academy.
The aim is to give young Wednesday players opportunities across the Atlantic if they do not make it here, and to recruit American players in the Owls academy.
The club already had links with America and Canada, and the whole venture has been given an extra push via the new partnership with sports management company Global Image Sports, who also run international academies for other Championship and Premier League clubs.
Part of the plan is for coaches and players from American youth football clubs to learn from Owls academy coaches.
Milan Mandaric is an advocate of the scheme and is well acquainted with the football scene in the US after his own career there.
Sean McAuley told The Star: “We have always been really strong in terms of the international partnerships we have created in the US.
“We viewed it a few years ago as an opportunity for certain of our own young players to go over there. We have had good contacts over there and they are very strong at developing players in certain age-groups.
“We have now formalised our partnerships through GIS, a company that has excellent standing in the States and was brought to our attention by the chairman and vice-chairman (Paul Aldridge).
“We were impressed with GIS and they were impressed with the work we have done in North America.”
Several players who did not make the first-team grade were able to make new starts.
Danny Kirkland and Will Kendall obtained scholarships at San
Francisco University and St Mary’s College, North Carolina, respectively.
Max Wragg played for Victoria Highlanders of Canada and is now back as a coach in the Owls’ academy; James Cottingham is with Los Angeles club Ventura County Fusion, and Luke Boden, who did make the Wednesday first team, is with Orlando, whom James O’Connor joined this season, as a senior pro.
McAuley added: “We have a development plan where if nothing works out for young players here they can get a good opportunity in America.
“There will also be the route for players from America to be coached in our academy.”
“With the new academy, we’ll probably recruit more.” says McAuley.
Many up-and-coming players in the US have European heritage - which means there is more of a chance of them concentrating on football rather than on basketball, baseball, American football or ice hockey.
Harkes was the son of Scottish parents. He played for the Owls’ 1991 League-Cup-winning side and made his mark in the Premier League. Simek spent his boyhood in London with his family and was with Arsenal before joining Wednesday.
McAuley added: “The chairman has contacts in the US and his standing is huge there because of what he has done in the past.
“We are fortunate that we had links with North America prior to the chairman coming in. We have had the links formalised and made stronger through contacts and our partnership with GIS.”