Tonight, when Sheffield United continue their FA Youth Cup adventure against FC Halifax Town, Derek Geary wants more than just a positive result.
The former defender turned Steelphalt Academy under-18’s coach has tasked his players with proving they have the mental strength, as well as the skill sets, to make the grade at Bramall Lane.
“If you don’t have the right attitude, the desire to dig-in and grind things out when things aren’t going your way, then you are going to struggle to go and represent this club,” he said. “That’s not being awkward or melodramatic. It’s simply stating the truth.”
Geary’s comments about the importance of developing tenacious as well as technically proficient footballers are intriguing. They also explain why, after being forced to meet such exacting standards, graduates of United’s youth system appear better equipped to forge professional careers than many of their peers elsewhere. Recognised by the Premier League for its ability to produce home-grown talent, the South Yorkshire club adheres to a nationwide coaching syllabus. But, as Geary revealed, United apply their own special twist.
“One of the things we do here is put a lot of emphasis on trying to make sure the lads are good characters as well as good footballers,” he said. “Football is a tough business and so, if you want to survive in it, you’ve got to be a tough person.
“Very few of the games I ever played in were run away wins or run away defeats. Most were settled by the odd goal here and there. That’s the nature of the beast. So that’s why you have to be able to cope with pressure situations, work through them, to try and make sure things eventually go your way.”
“There’s been lots of comments recently, not least from ex-pro’s, about too many people not being able to think their way through games,” Geary, who made 115 appearances for United before retiring due to injury, added. “Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know. But what I do is that it’s something we try to make sure isn’t even a talking point here.”
The wisdom of United’s decision not to shield their youngsters from the demands of professional sport was confirmed during the Checkatrade Trophy victory over Grimsby Town seven days ago. Eleven members of the squad, which conceded an early goal before recovering to win 4-2, were academy graduates. Five, including Jordan Hallam, Regan Slater and Joe Cummings, are eligible for selection at The Shay this evening.
Geary, whose team reached the second round after beating Crewe Alexandra earlier this month, said: “The lads had to come from behind in the last match, they showed their mettle. When they were trailing at half-time, we just told them to enjoy it because these type of scenarios are what football is all about.”
n FC Halifax Town v Sheffield United, The Shay Stadium, kick-off 7pm.