Win, lose or draw, Travis Binnion believes Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup tie against Crewe Alexandra will provide an insight into the character of Sheffield United’s young players.
The match, which takes place at Bramall Lane, sees two clubs renowned for their development expertise lock horns in one of English football’s most prestigious competitions.
A combination Binnion, United’s academy manager and lead under-23 coach, thinks makes it a vital part of the next generation’s sporting education.
“Obviously we both want to win but, one of the great things about this game, is that it will also tell us a lot about the make-up of those involved,” he said. “It’s a famous tournament, arguably the best of its kind in the world, and so it’s a big occasion for the lads. How do they handle that? How do they cope? They’re all good players but these situations tell you a lot about them in other ways too.”
It will not be lost on those sceptical about the motives behind the Checkatrade Trophy revamp and Elite Player Performance Plan that both United and Crewe boast enviable reputations for producing home-grown talent. Neither is in the top-flight or boasts category one academy status. Yet United were recently acclaimed by the Premier League, the very organisation which seems intent on allowing its members to plunder EFL academies on the cheap, for its success in bringing youngsters through the system. Crewe, meanwhile, have been responsible for producing the likes of Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton and former United centre-forward Rob Hulse in recent years.
The first round draw could have been kinder on both teams. But a high quality contest, following last month’s seven goal thriller in the Professional Development League, seems guaranteed.
“The nucleus of our group has been together for a long time,” Binnion, who works closely with fellow coaches Mick Wadsworth, John Dungworth and Derek Geary, said. “Most of them have been with us since the age of nine, which is becoming quite unusual now, and so have got a really strong bond and camaraderie.
“Crewe have got a certain style about them and are committed to playing expansive, attractive football. So it should be a good test for both of us.”
United reached the final of the competition in 2011 when the likes of George Long, Harry Maguire and Jordan Slew featured in the squad beaten over two-legs by Manchester United. Paul Pogba, now the world’s most expensive footballer, Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison appeared for the opposition.
“This competition has launched a lot of careers,” Binnion said. “It’s been the springboard for a lot of people going forward. Like being at school, they often say these are some of the best years of your footballing life. We know there are no guarantees for anybody but, because of the factors involved, it’s a chance for people to show coaching staff that they have the right qualities and characteristics.”
United’s under-18’s enter the contest unbeaten in six outings. Indeed the last time they tasted defeat was against Crewe eight weeks ago when, despite Jordan Hallam’s brace, the visitors found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-3 scoreline. United have hit the target 20 times since.
“The lads have been in good-form and delivering good results all the way through the season so far,” Binnion said. “That’s a credit to them and also the coaches who are involved with them. They’ll be looking to carry that on here.”
n Sheffield United versus Crewe Alexandra, Tuesday 1 November, kick-off 7pm. Entrance is free for season ticket holders or £3 (adults) and £1 (concessions).