James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Bramall Lane’s Mark of Quality

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Pablo Zabaleta said.

No, not Roy Keane’s Father Christmas beard, Adryan’s best being tasered impression or even Terry Kennedy’s collection of tattoos.

The Manchester City defender was talking about his employer’s new training complex, officially opened amid much hype on Monday morning, which cost an estimated £200m to build.

Boasting four star accommodation with decor designed by sleep experts, a video analysis auditorium and a 7,000 seater arena, the site also forms the vanguard of their bid to become the first port of call for aspiring young footballers hoping to carve a career in the game.

What has this got to do with Sheffield United I hear you ask? Well, everything and nothing.

The resources at City’s disposal dwarf what is available to Nigel Clough and his staff. But, as United prepare for next week’s Capital One Cup quarter-final against Southampton, it is worth remembering their biggest success in recent seasons.

And why the matter in question - youth development - holds the key to a successful future at Bramall Lane.

Alongside Swansea, Tuesday’s visitors provide the finest example of how establishing an identity can help propel unfashionable clubs through the leagues.

At the Liberty Stadium, chairman Huw Jenkins decided long ago that whoever sat in the manager’s hot seat must be committed to a passing blueprint. Likewise on the Hampshire coast.

United’s appointments have lurched from one ideology to the next. But their academy has been unerringly consistent, with names such as Phil Jagielka, Stephen Quinn and Kyle Walker graduating in recent years.

That can be their raison d’etre. The thing which cements their position in the game.

Tomorrow, when United face Fleetwood Town, it could mark the 707th consecutive first team fixture when a home-grown player has featured in their squad. The 4834 days which have passed since none were named in the party which travelled to Stockport County on 18 September 2001 are long enough to fly nearly 2000 times around the globe.

City included precisely zero in the side which overcame Everton last weekend. Opportunity, not a fancy facility, is the most important factor when it comes to producing footballers and, unless the FAPL champions grasp that, their state-of-the art base will be nothing but a vanity project.

Opportunities are not in short supply at Bramall Lane.

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Twitter: @JamesShield1