James Wallace can become the most accomplished midfielder to represent Sheffield United in recent seasons, the manager responsible for launching his footballing career told The Star last night.
Wallace, who joined Nigel Clough’s side from Tranmere Rovers earlier this summer, has yet to make a senior appearance for the League One club after aggravating a groin injury during its friendly against York City nearly three weeks ago.
But, as the 22-year-old enters the final phase of his rehabilitation, Ronnie Moore endorsed United’s decision not to rush Wallace back into action, insisting this “special talent” deserves to be handled with care.
“James can operate in the Championship, right now, without any problems whatsoever,” the former Rovers manager said. “And if he fulfils his potential then he can reach the Premier League as well, without a shadow of a doubt.
“There have been some excellent players in James’ position at Bramall Lane in recent seasons. Kevin McDonald is probably right up there. But, personally speaking, I think James is, or certainly can become, even better than Kevin. That’s the type of ability we’re talking about here.”
Although Wallace is unlikely to feature in the squad which hosts Crawley Town tomorrow, United hope he could be available for selection when they visit Preston North End next weekend after completing 30 minutes of Wednesday’s under-21 fixture with Colchester.
Having progressed through the ranks at Everton, Wallace, who made his debut for the Liverpudlians during a Europa League tie against Sigma Olomouc of the Czech Republic in 2009, crossed the Mersey on a permanent basis two seasons later after impressing Moore during a spell on loan at Prenton Park.
“The very fact he left Everton in search of first team football says a lot about James’ desire,” Moore continued. “And that’s something else which makes him the player he is.
“Because he was good enough, James could easily have stayed at Everton for another 12 months when he came to us and brought in a really good wage but he took the hard route, as it were, instead. He didn’t want to take the easy way out.
“His uncle, Gregg Blundell, was our physio at the time and that, looking back, was one of the reasons why we probably got him. Gregg played for Doncaster, Barrow and Accrington Stanley so he knows the game inside out.”
Although Wallace’s career has been punctuated by fitness issues - Moore claims Rovers would not have been relegated last term had be not suffered a serious knee injury during a match against Chesterfield in December 2013 - from United’s perspective they could also be a blessing in disguise.
Moore, who parted company with Rovers towards the end of the previous campaign, said. “There was so much interest in him when I was at Tranmere from much higher up the pyramid. With all due respect to Sheffield United, because they’re a massive club in their own right, James probably wouldn’t have been in this division right now if it wasn’t for those issues,
“But I know why Cloughie will persevere with James and he’s completely right to do so because, once he’s over his problems, there won’t be a better player in the division.
“Ability wise, James is exceptional. He can hit a 60 yard pass dead weight, play the little side-foot through balls and visualise everything that’s going on around him.
“Possibly, he could be a little bit more aggressive when he’s going forward but, you’ve got to understand, James is still developing his game.”
Wallace, Moore explained, also possesses the character to compliment his calibre.
“The great thing about James is that he won’t stand for any nonsense behind the scenes either. He’s got this burning will to win and so, if he thought someone was t*****g it off in training, he’d sort them out straight away or demand we did something about it.
“That’s why we made him captain when he was 20 which might seem like a big step but it was the right one to take. There were quite a few occasions, in the dressing room at half-time, when I had to tell him to shut up and let me speak because I was the gaffer, to wait his turn before saying his piece.
“But he commands respect from those around him because he’s the first person to hold his hands-up if he’s not performed either. He won’t hold anyone else accountable for his own mistakes or blame them if he’s not been up to scratch.”
“I can see him bending Nigel’s ear at times,” Moore added. “But he’ll like that because that’s James just wanting to do well.
“He’s got this great knowledge of football too and he’s always recommending players and telling you what they can and can’t do.”
Wallace, who made 58 appearances for Rovers, cost an undisclosed sum when he agreed a two year contract with United. Clough’s charges, who have won once and lost twice in the competition so far, enter tomorrow’s match hoping to record a second straight victory after beating Peterborough in midweek.
Captain Josh Simpson, a former England C international, is expected to be absent for Crawley after damaging his ankle while Matt Harrold, previously of Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers and Bristol Rovers, is doubtful as he continues to nurse a knee complaint.
“Irrespective of what happens in that one, United will be there or there abouts at the end of the season,” Moore said. “Because that’s what happens when you’ve got players like James at your disposal.
“The most important thing is getting him fit. Then he’ll show how good he is.”