Five year after their relegation from the Premier League, Sheffield United are currently preparing for life in League One after a season of managerial turmoil. Kevin Blackwell, Gary Speed and Micky Adams have all been and gone as Blades manager since the start of last season.
But there is some light at the end of a dark tunnel for new manager Danny Wilson and their fans, after the youth team reached the final of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in their history and several of the youngsters made their debuts in the first team at the end of last season.
The board made a statement after relegation was confirmed stating that they believe the future of the club lies in the hand of the youth setup and that they intend to rely heavily on youth for the foreseeable future.
The Sheffield public have certainly embraced the youth team this season after with Bramall Lane hosting its biggest crowd of the season as nearly 30,000 people turned up to watch a 2-2 draw in first leg of the FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester United. In the second leg at Old Trafford, Man United with their extensive scouting network and ability to attract world class talent, proved too strong for the Blades running out as 4-1 victors.
The academy players who featured in the final have also made the step up to the first team. 18-year-old striker Jordan Slew who looked the part playing with the assuredness of a veteran pro, central defender Harry Maguire and goalkeeper George Long who made his debut on the final day of season all look capable of impressing this season if they are called upon.
The club has already reaped the rewards of youth development after the combined sells of Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker for £10m and when a club of similar size Middlesbrough reached the Youth Cup Final in 2004, they were able to net more than £28m from all the players involved. However I am sure United will want to keep hold of their new starlets for as long as possible
A failed attempt by owner Kevin McCabe to expand the club’s fan base abroad when they were in the Premier League looks set to come back to haunt them. They brought Chinese side Chengdu Wuniu in 2006, renaming them the Chengdu Blade in an attempt to gain a commercial footing in Asia. Links were also established with teams in Hungry, Australia, Belgium and Brazil with the aim of sharing and developing young players. However looking at the youth team it is easy to see there this has not been a success and instead McCabe should have focused his attention with matters at Bramall Lane.
The club now have debts thought to be amoun to £57m and they are set to lose out around £12m of extra money after relegation. McCabe’s worldwide dream has been a factor in their decline but he should be given credit some credit for his emphasis on the youth side of things.
The youth players are in the very capable hands of academy director, John Pemberton who coached at Nottingham Forest for 14 years. He has installed an old school discipline into the players after being honed in the methods of the likes of Steve Coppell, Paul Hart and Dario Gradi who are all renowned for youth development. His long-term aim is to work an attacking positive philosophy into the side as well as nurturing the talent. It is hoped that this new philosophy will eventually be passed on the first team when the players make the step up.
In League One, the club will be running with a lower wage bill and a lot of expectation is being place on these youngsters.
They could mark the end of paying over the odds for older players, leading the Blades back to the Championship playing attractive attacking football.
Could this be a new golden generation of youth players at Sheffield United? Evidence will only be seen if the players become first-team regulars in the future. With the club in financial trouble and in League One, they may get their chance to shine earlier than expected.