Sheffield United: Why George is in safe hands

George Long was an unused substitute in the England Under-21's win over Scotland. Picture Martyn Harrison.
George Long was an unused substitute in the England Under-21's win over Scotland. Picture Martyn Harrison.

Barnsley-born defender John Stones is backing Sheffield United youngster George Long to blossom under David Weir’s tutelage this season.

Long was an unused substitute as England’s Under 21s thumped Scotland 6-0 in an international friendly at Bramall Lane in midweek.

Both Long and Stones were part of the England squad who under-performed in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup earlier this summer. Indeed, Long, the Blades No 1 goalkeeper, failed to make a competitive appearance in the tournament.

Stones, who began his career at Oakwell before moving to Everton in January for a fee thought to be in the region of £3m, is acutely aware of Long’s capabilities, having watched the talented 19-year-old at close quarters in training.

“George is a great goalkeeper,” said Stones, who made his U21 debut against Scotland. “He didn’t play in the World Cup which was disappointing for him but I’m sure he will do well for England and his club.

“We are separate from the goalkeepers in training but whenever I glance over, George is always pulling some funky saves off.

“I can see him doing really well this season. He played a lot of games last year for Sheffield United. I knew David [Weir] at Everton before he moved here so he’s in good hands.”

In front of nearly 27,000 spectators, England demolished Scotland thanks to goals from Nathan Redmond, Raheem Sterling, Connor Wickham, Ross Barkley, Jonjo Shelvey and Tom Carroll. Wickham and Barkley enjoyed loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday last season.

Stones said: “It was a brilliant experience. That’s the only way I can describe it. It was a big crowd and I had a lot of family and friends watching. I got a lot of support so it was good. It was a great result.

The 19-year-old described it as a “real pleasure” to play under England manager Roy Hodgson, who took charge of the under-21’s on a one-off basis as the Football Association search for Stuart Pearce’s successor.

“It was a strange experience because we usually see him with the senior squad,” he said. “I trained with the senior squad the other day for the first time. You dream about things like that.

“I take a lot from that experience. They’ve played at a high level.

“I want to keep on progressing and play as many games as I can in the U21 squad and hopefully get into the senior squad.”

Right-back Stones made 28 first-team appearances for Barnsley before his big money transfer to Everton on January transfer deadline day.

When asked if he had any regrets over leaving Oakwell, he replied: “It was a big decision for me and my family to move but it was the right one that I made. It [the transfer] all happened so quick. Looking back now it still seems surreal playing all those games at Barnsley.”

Now Stones, having impressed during Everton’s pre-season tour of the USA, is targeting a breakthrough campaign at Goodison Park.

“I would love to hit the ground running with the first game of the Premier League season and get an appearance under my belt,” he said.

The 6ft 2in defender, who can also be deployed at centre-back, said he is enjoying working with new Everton manager Roberto Martinez.

“I would like to think I am in Roberto’s plans,” he said. “I got a few appearances out in the USA so I’d like to carry that on and hopefully do that in the Premier League.

“Roberto is a brilliant manager. He is very positive in his work and I think a lot of the lads in training are looking really sharp. He is brought a lot of enthusiasm and I’m sure we will do really well.”