At first glance, it wasn’t the most glamorous posting in British football, writes James Shield.
But George Long last night outlined why joining Motherwell, the Scottish Premiership strugglers, could turn out to be the most significant moment of his embryonic career.
“I’m a better player, definitely, than before I came up here,” Long, on loan from Sheffield United, told The Star. “I’ve been able to get so much experience, on and off the pitch, which is good.
“The biggest thing has probably been my consistency levels. They’re really up and I’m pleased with that.
“Even just moving away from home, living somewhere else and getting used to another club, has been valuable. It’s been great to get that at such a young age too.”
Long has enjoyed a fairly cosseted existence since making his first team debut for United four years ago. Most of his senior outings have been in a squad vying for promotion. But moving to Fir Park, where Ian Baraclough’s side are fighting for their top-flight lives, took the goalkeeper out of his comfort zone.
It has also allowed Long, vindicating Nigel Clough’s belief that young talent is best honed in a first rather than reserve team environment, to accumulate 104 senior appearances before his 22nd birthday. Over 80 of those have come for United and, by a twist of fate, Long reached his century against Partick Thistle who included former Bramall Lane colleague Lyle Taylor in the starting eleven.
“Pressure wise, it’s different,” Long said. “At United, it’s about promotion battles whereas, as everybody knows, Motherwell were in a different position when I came here.
“The pressure from the outside changes depending on whether you’re in a promotion or relegation battle.
“As a player, though, you try to approach every game the same way, with the same focus. So that’s the trick, being able to do the same thing and prepare the same even though what’s going on around you is different.”
Long, capped by England at under-18 level and a member of the party which travelled to the 2013 FIFA under-20 World Cup, discovered last week that Clough has elected to trigger a clause, inserted into his present contract, which ties him to United for at least another 12 months.
“United have always kept in touch which is brilliant for me to know,” Long continued. “The goalkeeping coach, Darren Ward, rings up a lot to ask how things are going and I know he’s always keeping tabs on how I’ve been performing and what’s going on around the club.”
Motherwell, who could be invited to keep Long until midway through the 2015/16 campaign, are 11th in the table ahead of next weekend’s visit to Firhill Stadium and preparing for a play-off against either Hibernian or Rangers to decide the make-up of next term’s Scottish Premiership.
“I settled in really quickly up here. It’s a smashing club with good people,” Long said. “It probably helped that there were quite a few others coming in on loan at the same time. So they were in the same boat. But everyone has made me feel welcome and the manager’s been brilliant too.
“We’ve been able to take the play-off battle right down to the wire. And that’s good because it shows desire.
“I think, with the form we’re in at the moment, even if we ended-up in the play-offs, which we have, people wouldn’t want to be facing us. I’ll be seeing Lyle on Saturday which will be good.”