They have shared a pitch hundreds of times before at academy and youth team level, having graduated with flying red-and-white colours from Sheffield United’s Redtooth Academy just a year apart.
And Louis Reed, United’s promising young midfielder, believes team-mate Diego De Girolamo has the quality to solve United’s goalscoring crisis ahead of the weekend’s derby at Doncaster Rovers - and hopes he makes the most of it especially with strikers Marc McNulty and Michael Higdon missing through injury.
De Girolamo’s audition for a starting role at the Keepmoat faltered slightly on Wednesday night, as he fired a blank in United’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat at Walsall.
A few second-half flashes of individual skill, though, did show United’s travelling supporters what the Chesterfield-born Italian youth international is capable of - although Reed needed no reminder of his “game-changer” pal’s potential.
“I’ve known Diego since I was eight or nine years old, and we played together most of the years since,” said Reed, speaking after Romaine Saywers’ strike, via a helping hand from Michael Doyle, ended United’s JPT hopes this season.
“To be fair, I know him better than most - I was one year below him in the age groups, but we played a lot of football together since we were young. On his day, he can be a game-changer - I’ve seen him score goals out of nothing, when you least expect it. And when you’re under the cosh a little bit, he’s capable of getting you out of trouble by suddenly taking a few players on and scoring at the end of it.
“It’s nice to share a field with him again for the first team. He did really well on loan at York [scoring three goals in four games in League Two] and hopefully he can get us a few here, especially with a few of our strikers out injured. He needs to improve his consistency, of course but that will come with the more games he plays and the more experience he gets. As young players, we’re learning game by game and he can only get better.”
Whether De Girolamo gets another chance to impress at the Keepmoat Stadium depends largely on the success of Nigel Clough’s attempts to bring in a striker on loan, while Jose Baxter or Jamie Murphy are also contenders to start up top.
Reed’s own place in midfield is also far from secure, with James Wallace - if fit - the favourite to partner captain Doyle in central midfield.
But Reed is mature enough to see the bigger picture. Walsall apart, a string of commanding performances have belied his slight frame and youthful complexion. He excelled against the likes of Raul Meireles in a pre-season friendly win over Fenerbahçe and plays like a man in a child’s body, with a mature approach to life as a footballer, and an excellent footballing brain.
It would be easy to label Reed as ‘wise beyond his years’, but few youngsters at his age would be routinely trusted to hold down a key anchor role in midfield, a vital cog in manager Nigel Clough’s preferred 4-2-3-1 machine.
Reed’s rise to prominence says much about Clough, too, who rewarded the youngster for a series of dominant displays for United’s U21s with a somewhat shock start against eventual promotion-winners Rotherham United at the back end of last term. Clough’s main objective was to rest key players for United’s impending FA Cup semi-final at Wembley but in that game, a 1-0 win thanks to Ben Davies’ penalty, he learnt a lot more about the youngster’s talent and temperament, too.
“The academy is in great strength,” Reed, speaking in the gymnasium at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium, added.
“We saw Diego out there and a couple of other lads, like Connor Dimaio, had runs in pre-season. I’m sure they’re not too far out of the gaffer’s thinking. He’s showed time and time again that he isn’t scared to put young players in the team if he feels they deserve the chance, and that’s great encouragement for a young player to have because lads in the youth teams can see that there’s a clear pathway to the first team if they put in the right effort, and are good enough.
“I’m sure some managers are content to sit back and let the academy do its thing while focusing on the first team, but the gaffer isn’t one of those.”
Barnsley-born Reed recently revealed to this newspaper that he is preparing to begin driving lessons, and he was disappointed to not get into top gear against the Saddlers.
“It wasn’t my best game,” the youngster admitted. “But over the course of the season, I think I’ll get to where I want to be. I set really high standards for myself because of some good recent performances and that wasn’t up to that standard, but I’ll keep learning and improving and looking forward.”
Almost as comfortable dealing with a microphone as he is a football at his boot, Reed is an impressive, competent young player and an equally as impressive, eloquent young man. At 17, learning a tough apprenticeship in the rough-and-tumble of League One can only help him, especially with United captain Doyle - “he’s a great leader who isn’t afraid to give me a kick up the a*se” - on his side.
Clough sees no limit to his potential. And although sharing his name with a famous musician sometimes gives headline writers an easy ride, Reed possesses all the attributes to carve a name for himself in his own right. So keep an eye on Louis Reed, footballer; a young man with a wise head on his shoulders, and the world at his feet.