Sheffield United: Why Tony Currie knew these Steelphalt Academy graduates were heading for the top

Tony Currie has a keen eye for footballing talent: David Klein/Sportimage
Tony Currie has a keen eye for footballing talent: David Klein/Sportimage

Tony Currie knows a thing or two about playing for England.

After all, he did it 17 times during an illustrious career spanning nearly 20 years and seven clubs.

So earlier this year, when the Sheffield United legend suggested David Brooks would follow suit, his words carried weight.

The youngster might have chosen to switch allegiance after impressing for the Young Lions during last summer’s Toulon Tournament. But if, as seems likely, Brooks makes his debut for Wales against France tonight, Currie expects it to be the first of many caps the Steelphalt Academy graduate is awarded after making rapid progress in recent months.

“What a player that lad is,” Currie says. “He just glides past people and that’s a lovely gift to have. David’s not got lightning pace but he has the knack of leaving defenders trailing in his wake. I could tell, from the first moment I saw him, that the lad’s got a wonderful talent.”

Currie, now aged 67, is not prone to flattery. In fact, during the course of our conversation, he issues several unflattering assessments of footballers feted by the media. Brooks, though, is different. The Steelphalt Academy graduate, who was named in Chris Coleman’s squad for the friendlies with Les Bleus and Panama, has captured his imagination with a series of scintillating displays for United this season; culminating in last month’s match-winning performance at Leeds.

David Brooks has attracted plenty of attention this season: David Klein/Sportimage

David Brooks has attracted plenty of attention this season: David Klein/Sportimage

“What I like about David is that you can see he’s enjoying himself,” Currie continues. “There’s nothing better than seeing someone play the game with that attitude.

“Of course, he’s still got plenty to learn. One of the things I’ve noticed is that he could use the space behind the last man better when he’s looking to burst through on goal; just knock the ball 10 yards further forward and go.

“But Chris (Wilder, the United manager) and Knilly (assistant Alan Knill) will teach him things like that. They’ll bring him on in the right way and he’ll start doing it through experience too.”

Currie boasts an excellent track record of identifying talent at an early age. The former Chelsea and Watford apprentice, who made 377 appearances for United after leaving Hertfordshire in 1968, also went on record to describe Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire as future England internationals after watching them graduate from the Championship club’s Steelphalt Academy.

England's Harry Maguire is a Steelphalt Academy graduate

England's Harry Maguire is a Steelphalt Academy graduate

Both men, who have since left Bramall Lane, could feature when Germany visit Wembley Stadium tonight or against Brazil next week.

“Kyle was the first player I ever felt compelled to run on the pitch and congratulate after a debut,” Currie laughs. “I just told him ‘Well done, that’s the best (debut) I’ve ever seen.’ I can’t remember what he said back but I think it was just a thank-you. He was probably thinking ‘What on earth is he doing on here?’”

Walker, who left United for Tottenham Hotspur in 2009, became the most expensive defender in history when he completed a £50m transfer to Manchester City earlier this year. Maguire, now of Leicester City, was sold to Hull City in 2014.

“The thing that stood out about Harry back then was his stature,” Currie says. “That and, despite being a big lad, he was very graceful on the ball. He could bring it out from the back. I think he’d have played for England a lot sooner if Hull, for some reason I don’t understand, had played him more.”

Kyle Walker also started his career with Sheffield United: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Kyle Walker also started his career with Sheffield United: Martin Rickett/PA Wire