After observing Andy Keogh and Gary Hooper at close quarters, having worked on four separate occasions with Billy Sharp, Nigel Adkins knows a thing or two about centre-forwards.
So, when the Sheffield United manager insists that Dominic Calvert-Lewin is destined to master football’s most lucrative art, it is worth taking notice.
Adkins, despite subscribing to the theory that too much praise can sometimes be a bad thing for youngsters during the early stages of their careers, has adopted an altogether different approach when discussing the Steelphalt Academy graduate’s progress. Because, he explained earlier this week, coaching staff believe Calvert-Lewin possesses the predatory instincts and, even more importantly, the personality required to make the most of his talents.
“I do like Dom, yes, and I’ve had several very good strikers too,” Adkins said. “What I like about him is that he’s got a fantastic attitude, his athleticism, the fact he wants to learn and that you can see he scores goals. That’s what I like about Dom. He’s going from strength to strength. The attributes he’s got for a teenager are excellent.”
Calvert-Lewin, aged 19, is still waiting for his first senior goal since returning to Bramall Lane following a successful loan spell with Northampton Town earlier this season. But, after impressing during United’s summer friendly programme, he is now Adkins’ go-to-man when attacking reinforcements are summoned from the bench. Not, as became clear when the visitors were chasing a result at Southend last week, the vastly more experienced Conor Sammon.
“You’ve got to play the young lads but, likewise, we need to win,” Adkins said. “If you don’t play them, if you don’t have a pathway, then there’s no point in having an academy. You’ve got to put them in at the right time and bring them on in the right way. We aren’t just putting them in. They deserve to be where they are.”
Although Adkins plans to draw even more heavily on United’s youth system when overhauling his squad this summer - Ben Whiteman, Graham Kelly and David Brooks have also received call-ups of late - he insisted:
“I said at the beginning there needs to be a pathway. There’s always an affinity between home-grown players and the supporters. Moving forward, I think people can see we’ll be doing that. But you need the right balance of senior players around them too.”
United, who host Gillingham this weekend, climbed to eighth in the table after beating Walsall four days ago. The match saw Calvert-Lewin make his 34 appearance of the present campaign, including over 20 for the League Two leaders.
“Dom really benefited from his time at Northampton” Adkins said. “It taught him a lot and he was clearly well looked after by the staff there. That’s the benefit of getting games early.”