Alan Biggs at Large: Sheffield United have to build teams around best graduates

Ultimately there is only one way a football club keeps it best players - by keeping pace with them.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 12:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 12:28 pm
Conor Hourihane has made a big promise to Iliman Ndiaye and other young Sheffield United players: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

That is the challenge Sheffield United face with teenage forwards Iliman Ndiaye and Daniel Jebbison.Saying they are “not for sale” - and genuinely I believe they are not by intention - only works up to a point.It’s great that the Blades turned down an approach from arch predators Everton for Jebbison before sending him on a development loan to Burton.Also that they tied up Ndiaye before the youngster’s spectacular entrance on the Bramall Lane stage where he again showed his quality in an unlucky Carabao Cup defeat to top flight Southampton on Tuesday.And reassuring that United’s reputation as a “selling club” does not bring pride to a hierarchy that would be glad to reverse that perception.But in the longer run, assuming these talents make the strides that are anticipated, Premier League football is all that will keep them and even then there are no guarantees as no club can actually rule out selling anybody.So the big lesson stretching back two decades is that to reap the ideal dividend from the excellent Shirecliffe academy, a credit to the vision and enterprise of former chairman Kevin McCabe, United have to build successful teams around the best graduates.This has generally not happened. Phil Jagielka, for instance, stayed for a season in the Premier League under Neil Warnock but departed soon afterwards; Kyle Walker, and Kyle Naughton, were off to Spurs after a subsequent promotion attempt failed.More recently, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Che Adams were sold. While the fees look pitiful now, particularly in the case of the former, you have to remember that United were entrenched in League One at that time.The priority was escaping, with demands for the present rather than the future, and this duly happened in the form of a double promotion, making the club were money than if Calvert-Lewin were sold now.Besides, in a transfer world dominated by agents, it is very difficult to keep players happy when career and salary-advancing moves are in the wind.Which is not to say United should not look beyond a commercial benefit to the academy in terms of fees. They should.In an ideal world the Aaron Ramsdale saga - developed, sold, bought back and sold again - would have been avoided. But it was all part of the realities as above.So it is never as simple as ruling out sales. The difficult part with regards to Ndiaye and Jebbison is just beginning.Hopefully it will have a different outcome to the many of the past. Only realistically possible if the club is competing at a level to which their talents appear to be heading.

Daniel Jebbison of Sheffield United. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)