Talent-spotting, as Ian Wright, Kevin Phillips and even Miroslav Klose will testify, is far from an exact science, writes James Shield.
Clubs, despite employing vast armies of scouts and analysts, still allow unpolished gems to slip through the net.
It is a problem which persuaded Nick Cox, Sheffield United’s academy manager, to investigate ways of providing an alternative pathway into the professional game. The result - ‘A United Future’ - launches on Monday when 25 teenagers will begin a two year course designed to combine elite football coaching with studies towards a recognised vocational qualification.
“This isn’t just a PR stunt. It’s an integral part of our football club,” Cox, who hopes the scheme will provide a second chance to those “haven’t succeeded first time around,” said.
“Everything these lads do, football wise, has been designed to dovetail with our youth programme.
“They will be training here with us and, each week as an incentive and a reward for hard work, the best two will be invited to come and work directly with us.”
“We have also arranged lots of dates on the calendar so they can play matches against our academy teams which further reinforces that.”
The programme, delivered in tandem with Sheffield College, forms part of Cox’s plan to focus on developing local rather than overseas youngsters. It is a policy which has proven remarkably successful in recent years with the likes of Harry Maguire, Matthew Lowton, Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker all progressing through the ranks while six academy graduates were recently selected for international duty at youth level.
Jamie McDonagh (Northern Ireland), Diego De Girolamo (Italy) and Connor Dimaio (Republic of Ireland) are among those set to represent their respective countries.
Klose, the former German international, worked as a bricklayer before being recruited by FC Homburg and Cox said: “Everyone develops at a different rate.
“We’ve spent the summer recruiting and, after the first year, there will be 50 players on the course. Some have come from other local clubs and others straight from grassroots football so it goes to prove that the opportunity is always there.
“To underline they’re a central part of our club, we want to introduce the lads to the crowd at a home game really soon.
“You never know, one of them could well be walking out there with the first team in the future.”