First things first, Joe Riley promises to be a valuable addition to Sheffield United’s first team squad.
The 20-year-old, whose protracted loan from Old Trafford was finally processed this week, comes across as a thoroughly decent chap and genuinely excited about playing at Bramall Lane.
Manchester United tend not to include mugs in their starting eleven. If Riley, who made his full debut for the club during last season’s Europa League, breezes through games with the same effortless enthusiasm he demonstrated during Tuesday’s round of media interviews, then Chris Wilder has signed a very talented player indeed.
But there are other very talented young players, already on United’s books, who are also perfectly capable of representing the League One leaders. So, while I have no problem with the decision to recruit Riley, hopefully these forays into the transfer market are the exception rather than the rule. Because, when it comes to youth development, United’s ultimate responsibility must always be to those working within their own academy. An academy which, as everybody knows, has produced the likes of Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, Stephen Quinn, Harry Maguire and Matthew Lowton in recent seasons. Oh, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin too.
Of course, changes to the loan system mean that short-term transfers are now outlawed so Riley and Harry Chapman, who could yet return from Middlesbrough following injury, were always destined to arrive on medium-term deals. Clearly Wilder believes both, (he remains keen to work again with Chapman), possess qualities those already within United’s system lack or are yet to acquire. His judgement in terms of recruitment has proved pretty damn good so far. No issues there.
Nevertheless, the bar by which loan signings of this kind are judged must remain ridiculously high. Otherwise Louis Reed’s progress, for example, will be stifled. Longer-term, what hope for Ben Whiteman when he completes his own loan at Mansfield Town?
Earlier this season, soon after being appointed manager, Wilder spoke passionately about how the best up-and-coming professionals at England’s leading clubs would benefit from spending time with his team. But that word ‘best’ is crucial. Unless they are potentially special, as many observers have labelled Riley, then United must always look for fresh faces on their own doorstep first.