James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Have real life lessons helped the Blades?

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Character and guts feature prominently in Chris Wilder’s vocabulary.

Nigel Adkins, his predecessor at Bramall Lane, had a penchant for endeavour. But Sheffield United’s present commander-in-chief is a refreshingly uncomplicated bloke. So it is fitting that, when it comes buzzwords, this season’s choices are more prosaic too.

They certainly seem to resonate better in the dressing room where, after thumping Chesterfield last weekend, the 49-year-old’s squad are now unbeaten in 12 league games. Wilder’s United, a side ready to battle, scrap and fight in order to win football matches, is a very different beast to the one which limped to an 11th placed finish last term. Perhaps it is no surprise that, after declaring teams would be selected on the basis of what folk do rather than past reputations, results are not the only thing that have changed following his appointment in May.

Simon Moore is among seven United players, six of whom are likely to appear against Shrewsbury Town tomorrow, who started their careers or made their senior debuts with semi-professional or amateur clubs. The former Brading Town goalkeeper, speaking in The Star today, is also the second to encourage every young footballer, whether they are attached to an academy or not, to spend time playing outside of the top four divisions during their apprenticeship. (Mark Duffy, previously of Prescot Cables and Southport, being the first).

Is this a good idea? Is it feasible? Personally, on both counts, I think the answer is ‘yes’ although doubtless some functionary involved with the FA, the Premier League or Elite Player Performance Plan will shudder at the thought. Experiencing the game at grassroots level surely helps professionals appreciate their surroundings more once they have made the grade. Working in a ‘run of mill’ job, as Moore also suggested, must help them stand on their own two feet, broaden their horizons and think for themselves.

Of course, tasting life outside of football would not guarantee any of the above. Plenty of players, Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke included, know the ‘real world’ can be a damn tough place without heading to Telford or Taunton Town. Few outside of the top-flight or the Championship can probably afford to retire when they hang-up their boots. But, if nothing else, making every academy prospect undergo a work-placement might make them hungrier to succeed. And prove invaluable if they don’t.