Humble beginnings and a 3,500 mile move that paid off: The making of Sheffield United's latest star Daniel Jebbison
It was early afternoon in Ontario, Canada when Marcelo Almeida whipped out his phone and typed out a quick message to his long-time friend and colleague, Bassam Naim.
The pair had their eyes locked on their televisions, engrossed by events almost 3,500 miles away in Liverpool as Sheffield United faced Everton at Goodison Park.
United, already relegated and with just one away win to their name all season, had handed a full Premier League debut to 17-year-old Daniel Jebbison
Seven minutes into the game, United defender Jack Robinson sauntered forward, fashioned himself a bit of space in the Everton box and smashed a dangerous cross against Jordan Pickford’s goal.
Whether Ben Godfrey tried to play offside or anticipate where the cross would go, only he knows. But Jebbison made his move and Almeida was lost for words; simply yelling out loud as the ball hit the back of the net. He pulled out his phone and deliriously typed the first thing that came to mind.
“He’s ******* scored!”
Bassam and Almeida first came across Jebbison as a five-year-old boy. Born in Oakville, Canada, Jebbison is the youngest of four children to parents Patrick and Christine.
Patrick is a 6ft 6in former basketball player of some distinction, Christine a talented former track athlete, and athletic ability unsurprisingly runs in the family. Daughter Sarah was the only member of the Jebbison clan not to play football with ANB, and sons Jonathan and Micah were promising enough to earn trials with Wolves, Everton and United.
“They had a lot of energy,” Almeida, whose son Matteo played with Daniel as a youngster, remembered of the Jebbison boys.
“There have been a lot of studies that say the youngest child is often the most successful in sport, because he has had to fight against his older siblings growing up, and this is another case. Jonathan and Micah are fantastic players.
“One time Christine told me that the boys weren’t coming to training because they had broken a window in the garage playing football. I thought: ‘That’s the Jebbisons for you’. They were like that, full of energy and athleticism.
“But that physicality is only one part of the game. You also need the technique to pass the ball and control it, and we try and instil that at a very young age.
“We encourage a lot of dribbling and taking on players. If we lost the ball, or lost games, that was fine. We played 4v4 games at the weekend to encourage a lot of touches on the ball. In Canada, a lot of youth teams promote boys that have develop quicker than others – they are faster, stronger.
“But what happens when that physicality evens out when you get older, or you meet a defender that is as strong or as quick as you?
“Daniel is a lot bigger and stronger now but he always had a confidence to go forward, with his boundless energy and a little bit of fighting spirit within him.
“I let out a little yell when he scored at Everton, and sent Bassam a text that you probably can’t print in your newspaper! It’s the culmination of a lot of effort from everyone at ANB in his youth days – all those days and nights at training, games and tournaments – but absolutely worth it all to see him start and score the winner in a Premier League game.”
‘Move to England’
Speaking to The Star from Canada via Zoom, Bassam proudly repeated a stat from Business Insider, who calculated that the chance of a young player making a Premier League appearance is 0.012 per cent. “So there’s slightly more chance than being struck by lightning,” he added. “But not by much.”
Neither could believe that news of Jebbison’s Premier League debut a week earlier did not make the news in Canada. He is hot property now – a history maker as the youngest player to score on his first Premier League start – and, predictably, stories of big clubs circling are beginning to emerge in the media.
He has come a long way from that young man in ANB’s academy – both figuratively and literally – and Bassam can’t help but smile as he remembers the time Patrick and Christine sought him out, to ask how they could maximise their three sons’ chances of forging a career in professional football.
“It was simple,” Bassam said. “I told them: ‘Move to England’.
“Christine has a UK passport, so I said: ‘Go and live there, and live and breathe and eat football every day. You won’t have the same opportunities in Canada’.
“I love my country to death. I’m not trying to put it down. But it’s about being realistic. The day they told me the family was moving to the UK, I said: ‘Maybe you have a chance, that the kids will get somewhere at the highest level’.
“It would have been 100 times harder to do that staying in Canada. I’m sad to say that as a Canadian, but that’s the reality and we have to learn from it. There are so many kids here who have good foundations as footballers. But they don’t see the light of day, because they aren’t exposed.”
A role model for a nation
Patrick and Christine took the advice, settling in Derby five years ago, and how the decision, the gamble, paid off. Daniel and Micah were spotted by United at an organised football trial event, and the younger brother was offered a deal. After seven goals in 15 games for United’s U23 side, he was called up to the England U18 squad earlier this season and was preferred to United’s £23.5m record signing Rhian Brewster in attack against Everton.
“Sheffield United have done a great job with this young man,” Bassam said.
“I recognise that Daniel himself has put in a lot of good work on the pitch too, and I wish him all the success in the world. I am ecstatic that we had some hand in this young man, to help him get to England per se, and to help him keep loving football.
“But he has put in a lot of effort on his own, and the club deserve a lot of accolades as well. I know the player very well, and I see the fundamentals of what we instilled in him there, but they took it to the higher level and we are very respectful of that. And of the big decision that his parents made, to leave their home and their jobs and move to England, to take that risk.
“Daniel left us as a kid and now he looks like a man. He was never small, but he was thin and now he’s big and strong. And he’ll only get stronger.
“To see him make history at Everton… I am so, so proud. It brought a tear to my eye.
“Daniel playing in the Premier League is something that we Canadians should be celebrating, similar to Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich and Jonathan David at Lille.
“These are idols that young players can look up to. Not just kids from ANB, or from Ontario. But from the whole of Canada.”