Only a few youngsters are lucky enough to meet their footballing heroes. Fewer still get the chance to work alongside them nearly every single week.
Harry Chapman, Sheffield United’s new loan signing from Middlesbrough, is one of the exceptions to the rule.
“When I was growing-up, Stewart Downing was always my favourite player,” the teenager said. “He’s the same position as me. Obviously he’s come back to Boro now and when I’ve trained with him he’s taught me a lot. His movement and footballing intelligence is really clever. When I speak to him, he’s so down to earth too.”
Chapman will spend the next nine months picking Chris Wilder’s brain after joining United on a season long basis last week. The winger, who could make his full debut when Southend visit Bramall Lane this evening, featured as a second-half substitute during Saturday’s draw with Rochdale which saw Wilder’s squad secure its first point of the League One campaign.
“I enjoy learning and that’s why I’m here,” Chapman said. “Hopefully I can get a really strong bond with the lads and pick lots up from the gaffer and his staff. I know he’s got some really good ideas and wants to go about things the right way. He demands a lot and that’s good.”
Despite being born 16 miles up the road in Hartlepool, Chapman’s skills quickly brought him to the attention of Aitor Karanka’s scouts rather than those working on behalf of his hometown club.
Like United, the Premier League club boasts an enviable reputation for developing its own talent with Lee Cattermole, James Morrison and of course former England international Downing among those to graduate from Rockcliffe Park. Chapman turned professional eight months before representing Middlesbrough in last term’s UEFA Youth League where, after beating Stade de Reims, Torino and Dynamo Kyiv, they eventually succumbed to Paris St Germain in the knockout stages of the tournament’s ‘domestic champions’ path.
“That competition brought me on a lot,” he acknowledged. “Probably the biggest thing it taught me was how to play in front of a crowd and cope with that. With the under-18’s, we were out there in front of a couple of hundred people. Then, when you go over to Italy, there’s 10,000 people in the ground all shouting and screaming because they want you to lose. Here, if I’m playing badly, then people will get on my back. But, because of those experiences, I think I can deal with that.”
“PSG away was probably the toughest,” Chapman added. “We got beat 1-0 and they had a few lads out there who had played in their first team. They’re a huge club, massive, and so the quality was so good. Even though that one was only at their training ground, there were still about 500 there and up close.”
Chapman, aged 18, is the second Middlesbrough to join United on loan this year following Alex Baptiste’s spell in South Yorkshire under Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Adkins. Baptiste proved a huge success, making 11 appearances and scoring once before returning to Teesside. But, after impressing during a three month stint at Barnsley last term, Chapman did not feel the need to seek a second opinion before accepting United’s invitation.
“I didn’t speak to Alex because my mind was already made up. Especially when I got shown around the stadium and the training ground. The manager asked me what I expected from him and what he wanted from me. I came here with Barnsley last season and the atmosphere was brilliant then so I already knew I’d like it.”
Chapman lifted the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and won the League One play-off final with Barnsley, featuring 14 times and scoring one goal. Although that, combined with a brief cameo against Keith Hill’s side two days ago, is the limit of his senior experience, Wilder is convinced the knowledge Chapman gleaned at Oakwell could prove invaluable. An appreciation of the division is something most targets must demonstrate before being considered for transfers to Bramall Lane.
“They achieved what I want to achieve again this year,” Chapman said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling and I want it again. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing it here.”
So what are the key components of a promotion winning team?
“Confidence and belief,” Chapman continued. “Belief that you can do it, those are the biggest things. I believe Sheffield United can do it. If Billy keeps scoring and the rest of the lads too, then it will be great. It’s up to the likes of me to help supply the front lads.”
“I’m a direct player, I like to take people on and score goals,” he added. “Basically, I just enjoy playing football.
“This is a massive club with a great fan base and everybody is striving to achieve. The Blades have spent far too long in this division and shouldn’t be here. I want to develop as a player and that’s why I think it’s the right club for me.”