THEY are, John Pemberton insists, the greatest team in the world and an inspiration behind his work at Sheffield United’s academy.
No, not Barcelona, Real Madrid or even the Spainish national team.
Football is not short of role models at present but followers of the League One club will be surprised to learn that a group of servicemen who spend their working lives risking life and limb hundreds of feet up in the air rather than wowing crowds with displays of intricate passing set the standards Bramall Lane’s next generation aspire to emulate.
“The Red Arrows are an example to everyone,” Pemberton said. “They are the very best at what they do.
“When you are flying at top speeds only feet apart, the trust you’ve got to have in each other is second to none.
“They are a remarkably tight unit and there’s so much we can learn from them not matter what field we are in.”
Shirecliffe, where coaching staff hone some of South Yorkshire’s finest young talents, has been United’s greatest success story in recent seasons with 15 graduates featuring at first team level since the summer of 2009.
Kyle Walker, one of its most famous alumni, is expected to join Phil Jagielka, another player who learnt his trade at United, in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Moldova.
Pemberton, who took charge in 2010, analysed the Royal Air Force’s elite squadron en route to gaining his UEFA Pro Licence.
Several of the methods employed at its Lincolnshire base have been given a football twist and included in United’s own training programme.
“I know someone who is involved with the Arrows and so I was fortunate enough to spend time with them,” Pemberton said.
“There’s a lot of testosterone involved with those guys and now there’s also a woman who flies with them too.
“She’s in because she’s damn good at what she does, there’s no room for preconceptions.
“The Arrows emphasise the importance of the selection process, leadership and team building.
“So much of what they do can translate to football,”
Regular video debriefs, where frank, no-holds-barred discussion is encouraged, are one such example.
Squad members gather on a regular basis to revist and review key moments in games and also those which, to the untrained eye, seem insignificant.
“What is said in that room stays in the room,” Pemberton confirmed. “Nothing is held back. And if the lads have got an issue with something we are doing then we want them to say.
“It’s as valuable for us as it is them.”
Although such forensic attention to detail is ultimately designed to produce successful players, familes and parents are also expected to embrace the concepts of Pemberton and his staff.
“There’s no point in us lecturing about the importance of respect and responsibility if, the minute the lads go home, they get their boots clean for them,” Pemberton continued. “Equally, if we acknowledge the importance of diet and then they’re allowed to eat Big Macs.
“If we get the whole package right then we produce good players.”
United’s under-18s have opened their season with victories over Coventry City, Barnsley and Huddersfield Town.
With a round of cost-cutting measures behind the scenes, the performances of United’s home-grown players are likely to come under growing scrutiny over the coming months as supporters and management alike eagerly await the next Jagielka or Walker.
Harry Maguire, Elliott Whitehouse, Joe Ironside and Callum McFadzean are among those members of the 2011 FA Youth Cup Final squad to appear at senior level.
Teams and ref
SCUNTHORPE (possible): Slocombe, Newey, Mirfin, Ribeiro, Canavan, Prutton, Jennings, Ryan, Duffy, Barcham, Grella (4-4-2).
BLADES (possible): Howard, Hill, Maguire, Collins, McMahon, Flynn, McDonald, Doyle, McAllister, Blackman, Cofie (4-4-2).
Steve Rushton: From Staffordshire, Rushton issued three red cards in his first five outings of the new Football League season. He also boasts an average of 2.4 cautions per match since August. That compares to 2.79 last term.