It was regrettable, lamentable and probably, given Sheffield United’s League One status, utterly inevitable too.
But, if they utilise it correctly, staff at the Steelphalt Academy can use Aaron Ramsdale’s departure to AFC Bournemouth as an effective marketing tool. After all, as a recent piece of research commissioned by the Premier League confirmed, few EFL teams have mastered the art of producing top-flight footballers quite like Sheffield United. So, if you are a budding young talent with half an eye on turning professional, Bramall Lane should probably be your first port of call. Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and countless others can all explain why.
Not that losing a player of Ramsdale’s calibre is cause for celebration. But, until United re-establish themselves as a leading Championship club, seeing the best graduates of their youth system cherry-picked by clubs with deep squads and even deeper pockets will be an unwelcome fact of life. Ramsdale’s new employers banked £70,843, 913 in prize money, facility fees and solidarity payments last season. Via the same channels, United received around 1.4 per cent of that amount.
Receiving a fee which exceeds their own EFL funding for a someone with only two senior appearances under his belt represents, in one sense, good business. Particularly, following another busy transfer window, because it has allowed Chris Wilder to strengthen other areas of his side and still abide by the Salary Cost Management Protocol.
But the fact that United are effectively powerless to prevent the likes of Ramsdale and Calvert-Lewin, who joined Everton in August, leaving at the beginning of their careers exposes a major flaw in the English game and its supposed desire to promote youth development.
A recent report by the CIES Football Observatory revealed that ‘club trained players’ aged between 15 and 21 account for only a tenth of PL squads; the fourth lowest number across 31 major European leagues. Expatriate players, by contrast, account for nearly 62 per cent; a figure surpassed only by Cyprus’ First Division and the Turkish Süper Lig.
Hopefully he will prove me wrong but, with Ramsdale’s local newspaper on the south coast bemoaning Eddie Howe’s failure to sign anyone last month, it is probably fair to say he was a damn sight closer to the first team at United than now on the south coast. In all likelihood, he will return to the EFL, albeit on loan, to further his education soon. Which begs the question: If the powers-that-be are serious about encouraging all clubs to produce their own players, why can’t they devise a system which makes it possible for them to stay there in the first place?
More equal distribution of the sport’s finances is required. Those who scoff at that thought, and doubtless there will be many, are not only doing the next generation a great disservice but football as a whole too.