Nick Cox, Sheffield United’s academy manager, has attributed its latest flurry of international call-ups to a pioneering blueprint behind the scenes, writes James Shield.
Ioan Evans, Connor Dimaio, Jamie McDonagh and Jasper Johns were all selected to represent their respective countries at youth level earlier this month while George Long, who also progressed through the ranks at Bramall Lane, was named in the England under-21 squad which overcame Scotland eight days ago.
One of David Weir’s first tasks after taking charge of United earlier this summer was to order young players and seasoned professionals to share the same facilities at the club’s training complex.
Cox, speaking ahead of this weekend’s under-16 and under-18 derbies with Sheffield Wednesday, told The Star: “It’s not academies that produce players, it’s football clubs. If there is no pathway through, if the first team staff are not involved or interested, then it’s a much more difficult process.
“We play the same way, show the same respect for possession, that the senior team do. We’ve always played that way and it’s important because it helps the transition and showcases the academy lads properly to international scouts. They are playing in the right environment.
“The manager and his assistants Lee (Carsley) and Adam (Owen) are always keen to stay on top of what’s happening. They’ll pop into training and watch games when possible.”
United were recently named among English football’s eight most prolific producers of home-grown talent after its academy was granted category two status as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan review. Teenage centre-forward Jake Eyre was called-up by Weir for last weekend’s League One fixture against Colchester after impressing at under-18 level.
“The academy and first team staff all share the same corridor now and the academy players get to mix with the first teamers which is great,” Cox said. “Because it shows them that they’re valued by this football club.”