James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why looking towards Scotland is a shrewd move

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Money, as I always try and remind myself at the end of the month, isn’t everything.

But, when it comes to football, it’s an argument which seems to fall pretty flat.

Folk preach about the importance of academies in one breath and then call for big money signings with the next. Nod sagely whenever prudence is mentioned, then demand their own team “spends some bloody cash.”

Commentators, directors and supporters alike are all guilty of drawing the misguided link between status and investment when it suits. Confusing expressions of love, usually from new, minted or under-fire owners, with personal vanity projects.

England’s fascination with finance, perfectly illustrated by the hysterical transfer deadline day coverage earlier this week, probably accounts for its snobbery towards the game in Scotland.

But, as Sheffield United’s recent exploits north of the border demonstrate, there is much to admire about the SPFL. And not just, admittedly due to the demise of the Old Firm, a title race which is more unpredictable and competitive than our own.

Nigel Clough’s predilection for signing Scottish players had been the source of much amusement in recent weeks. The United manager, whose Tartan Army now numbers nine following Jason Holt’s arrival from Hearts, often cracks a self-effacing joke himself. But it makes perfect sense.

Because, in 2015, young Scottish players enjoy more opportunities than their English counterparts. And so, at an earlier age, are better equipped to succeed. Nor, for risk of stating the bleeding obvious, is their a language barrier to overcome. (Although, on second thoughts). Successful wheeler-dealers minimise the element of risk.

United midfielder-turned-defender Ryan Flynn is a long-standing advocate of the notion that aspiring professionals in the Premier and Football leagues should view places like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Kirkaldy as perfect locations to relaunch stagnating careers. Goalkeeper Mark Howard doubtless agrees.

Curiously, clubs in Scotland rekindled their love affair with developing rather than purchasing players soon after their lucrative television deals had collapsed. Long-term, both they and Gordon Strachan will reap the benefits.

The last laugh might not be on us.

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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