Sheffield United: How title-winning Blades are inspiring the next generation

Travis Binnion. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Travis Binnion. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Their exploits have sent a wave of euphoria sweeping through half of the city but it is at the Steelphalt Academy, Sheffield United’s critically acclaimed talent factory, where the first team’s march to the League One title probably had the most tangible effect.

“It’s inspired our lads, to see the first team doing so well,” Travis Binnion reveals.

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield United lifts the trophy during the English League One match at  Bramall Lane (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield United lifts the trophy during the English League One match at Bramall Lane (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

“It’s also underlined, given the things Chris (Wilder) wants from his players, what it takes to be a success.

“That hard work, that desire and that will to win married with good play.”

Binnion, United’s academy manager, is speaking as the club’s under-18’s prepare for tomorrow’s PDL2 showpiece against Coventry City at Bramall Lane; the next generation’s third play-off final in the space of 13 months.

While Wilder’s appointment has transformed results at senior level - his squad finished 14 points clear of their nearest rivals in the race for Championship football next term - those responsible for overseeing United’s youth system have enjoyed similar success by adopting many of the 49-year-old’s methods.

A deliberate and, Binnion explains, potentially fruitful ploy as they look to progress players through the system.

“Although the under-18’s play in a slightly different way at times, we adhere to exactly the same principles as the first team and I think that’s important.

“It’s vital in fact. Yes, the lads here all have ability. But you need to show that desire as well. You’ve got to be able to dig in, when required, for a win. That’s what Chris wants and so we have to get the same thing from our lads too.”

United’s academy, widely regarded as the best in the region, has enjoyed great success in recent years.

Recognised by the Premier League for its ability to equip youngsters with the skills required to forge professional careers, it counts the likes of Kyle Walker, Stephen Quinn, Harry Maguire and, most recently, Dominic Calvert-Lewin as graduates.

Binnion, who heads a coaching team which includes John Dungworth, Mick Wadsworth, Jamie Annerson and Derek Geary, took charge when his predecessor Nick Cox was poached by Manchester United.

Despite acknowledging its long track record of success - “We’re fortunate we can build on the superb work of people like Rob Reid, John Warnock, John Pemberton and Nick” - Binnion has put his own stamp on United’s approach to youth development.

“The most notable change being an emphasis on exposing those from under-18 level upwards are exposed to the demands of senior competition.

“Obviously we’ve tweaked a few things. We’ve been fortunate enough to have some excellent coaches and people running the academy here in the past.

“What we’ve tried to do is bring the best of everything they’ve done together.

“So, whereas at one point the style of play might have been quite regimented and then there was a real emphasis on enjoyment and fun, we’ve tried to marry the two together.

“There’s something to be said for both ways and we want to try and get the best of both.”

Wilder underlined the importance of ensuring “everyone is on the same page, pulling in the same direction” after taking charge last summer.

“Recruitment wise, we’ve changed a few things as well,” Binnion, echoing that sentiment, says.

“We’re trying to mirror what we do at our level with what the first team do.

“So we’ll speak with (the first-team’s head of recruitment) Paul (Mitchell) about the type of player they are looking to bring in.

“Hopefully, that should help them ensure there’s a ‘Sheffield United Way’, an identity if you like, going forward in the future.

“We’re trying to support Chris, Knilly (assistant manager Alan Knill) and their staff with everything we do.”

United’s under-18’s, coached by former defender Derek Geary, lifted the PDL League Two North title with three games to spare following a 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday at Middlewood Road.

Unbeaten in 14 outings, they reached the play-off final after goals from Jordan Hallam and George Cantrill put Charlton Athletic to the sword in last month’s knockout fixture.

“Listen, winning is important when you get to this stage,” Binnion says.

“Or at least doing everything you can to try and win and get a result.

“The lads are building up their experience now of these type of games so, hopefully going forward, that should stand them in good stead.”

n Sheffield United under-18’s versus Coventry City under-18’s, PDL2 play-off final, Wednesday 10 May, Bramall Lane. (Kick-off 7pm). Admission free.