Chris Wilder has used all sorts of tricks, from ignoring the question completely to answering a totally different one, in an attempt to keep David Brooks’ name off the back pages.
But, with every passing week, it is becoming increasingly clear this is a battle even Sheffield United’s all-conquering manager can not win.
Brooks, the latest talent to roll off the Steelphalt Academy conveyor belt, is expected to make his latest pre-season appearance when Wilder’s squad visit Rotherham this evening. But, as he prepares for the meeting with Paul Warne’s side, Brooks has been warned United’s decision to grant him protected status does not mean he is exempt from criticism.
“It’s up to him,” Wilder asked if the youngster can earn a place in his starting eleven, said. “If he carries on the way he is, most certainly. If he slips back, gets lazy and thinks he’s made it, then no.
“He’ll have to work even harder now because of where he’s at and what he’s doing. But I’ve got fantastic role models in that dressing room. They are delighted with what he’s producing. But they’ll be on to him as well. If they aren’t, then I will. Sometimes it happens quickly. Sometimes, it’s more a slow burn.”
Despite taking a conscious decision to downplay Brooks’ talents, Wilder was forced to confront the issue head on after watching the winger score a memorable goal against Chesterfield on Tuesday. The match was delicately poised at 1-1 when, with less than 10 minutes remaining, Brooks picked up the ball inside his own half before, after shaking off a marker and surging forward, smashing it past Joe Anyon and into the back of the net.
“David has done what we expect him to do and what he’s been showing at the back end of last season, through the summer and pre-season as well,” Wilder, who recently pulled the plug on his proposed loan move to the Proact Stadium, said. “He’s done well with England but now he’s got to carry that on.”
Brooks, aged 20, made four outings for United as they romped to the League One title last term; finishing the season on 100 points and 14 clear of second-placed Bolton Wanderers. With Wilder acknowledging he still wants to bolster his attacking options before next month’s Championship opener against Brentford, Brooks could edge a step closer towards his full-debut with another exciting display at New York Stadium.
“I want people to give me a headache regarding selections,” Wilder said. “I made it clear, the race for a place in the team has already started.”