Diego De Girolamo will benefit from second loan spell at Yor City, says Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough

Diego De Girolamo
Diego De Girolamo

He is the little player with the huge reputation.

A centre-forward who, despite being blessed with an abundance of ability, has yet to translate that talent into a regular first team place.

Diego De Girolamo is back at York City � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Diego De Girolamo is back at York City � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

So how can Diego De Girolamo force himself into contention for a starting place at Sheffield United?

And what, after being dispatched on loan to York City for the second time this season, does Nigel Clough want the Italy youth international to demonstrate when he returns to Bramall Lane?

The answer, United’s manager outlined ahead of tomorrow’s League One encounter against MK Dons, is maturity and match craft.

Two qualities which, in the ruthless world of professional football, ultimately separate the wheat from the chaff.

“Diego has got undoubted potential,” Clough told The Star.

“That has never been in question and everyone who has seen him out there on the pitch knows that.

“What he’s got to do is learn how to apply that in the best way possible.

“That’s why we’ve allowed him to go back there again because, the quickest way Diego will make that transition, is by actually playing games.”

De Girolamo, who was born in Chesterfield but qualifies for the Azzurrini by virtue of his Neapolitan father, got the chance to do that on a regular basis when he signed a short-term agreement with Russ Wilcox’s side two months ago.

Three goals and four outings later, the 19-year-old was recalled to his parent club when injuries to Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty left United with a paucity of attacking options entering their FA Cup first round tie at Crewe Alexandra.

De Girolamo, who subsequently made his full debut for United against Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, impressed with his raw enthusiasm and willingness to run at opponents.

But not, as Clough acknowledged following confirmation that Higdon and McNulty had both regained fitness, quite enough to command a regular position in United’s squad. Yet.

“It’s not a case of wanting Diego to make his mistakes somewhere else,” Clough continued.

“We don’t want that for either him or Russ because we’d like to see them both do well.

“But you could see Diego had improved by being involved with York and so, because we want to look after his development and do the best by him, we thought it would be good for him to go back there and continue to process.

“Everyone, Diego and us, will in the long run be best served by doing that.

“Being exposed to that sort of environment, situations where the decisions he makes have a material and financial effect on those around him, should bring the lad on no end.

“With the greatest of respect, you don’t get that when you’re representing the under-18ss or the under-21s.”

With Chris O’Grady’s arrival on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion bolstering the firepower at United’s disposal, Clough has been granted the luxury of allowing De Girolamo to accelerate his education at Bootham Crescent where, after a chequered start to the campaign, City find themselves embroiled in a battle to claw themselves away from the relegation zone.

Wilcox, who replaced Nigel Worthington midway through the youngster’s first spell in North Yorkshire, will have a crucial role in shaping the next phase of his career.

Some observers, perhaps even De Girolamo himself, will inevitably question why Clough has temporarily absolved himself of that responsibility.

The former England international, whose exacting standards prompted him to overhaul United’s squad during the close season, confronted the issue during a passionate defence of the emergency loan system which, if FIFA gets its way, could soon become a thing of the past.

“When Diego comes back here, which he will, we want to get him working with the first team lads on a day to day basis,” Clough added.

“Yes, he’s been doing that here but, and this isn’t a criticism, there is still room for him to improve.

“It’s a psychological thing as much as anything else. There have been a couple of times during sessions when one of the lads had said to him ‘Come on Diego, let’s step it up.’

“That’s because, at senior level, you’ve got to be so focused and switched on every single time you train. No matter what the exercise or situation, in a five-a-side for example, that’s what you’ve got to show.

“They, like we do as staff, know what he’s capable of doing. They’re just encouraging him, that’s all, and that’s what we want to do too.

“But the only way you learn that is by being involved like he will be at York. It’s just a process. A process that every single player goes through.”

“That’s the beauty of the loan system,” Clough added.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why some folk want to do away with it because there are just so many benefits for everyone involved.

“It benefits Diego, York and us. Even with an older player like Chris (O’Grady) it’s a benefit because he can come to us and get games.

“Putting a stop to loans, as far as I’m concerned, just makes no sense.”

Nor, he insisted, do suggestions that De Girolamo’s departure should be interpreted as a slight on his prospects with United.

“Diego’s contract is up at the end of the season but, as far as I’m aware, we’ve got some sort of option on him and that’s good,” Clough added.

“He’s got a future here and the potential to become a key player. That’s something we’ll look at shortly, probably later on this season, because we want him to be with us for many years to come.”