Sheffield United: Academy launches pioneering new scheme

Kyle Walker, the England and Tottenham Hotspur defender, is a graduate of Sheffield United's academy
Kyle Walker, the England and Tottenham Hotspur defender, is a graduate of Sheffield United's academy

Sheffield United have launched a pioneering new scheme designed to provide youngsters with an alternative route into professional football, writes James Shield.

Nick Cox, manager of the League One club’s Redtooth Academy, last night announced it has entered into partnership with Sheffield College to launch an elite two year programme which offers students a chance to gain recognised vocational qualifications as well as develop their technical skills with coaches from Bramall Lane.

Called ‘A United Future’, the programme bears similarities to the type of scheme which saw Britt Assombalonga, who later commanded a £1m transfer fee, offered terms by Watford.

Confirming the course forms part of his plan to focus on working with local rather than foreign players, Cox said: “We are dedicated to the development of home grown talent. This programme is a key part of our overall player development strategy at the club.

“Whilst there is a growing trend of academies importing foreign players, our strategy is to exhaust Sheffield and the surrounding areas before looking further afield.”

“The programme will give players a route back into the professional game with the opportunity for some gifted students to play for the first team,” Cox added. “There are lots of talented youngsters who, for one reason or another, haven’t succeeded first time around and this offers them a second chance at success.”

United, who were recently ranked by the Premier League as boasting the eighth most productive academy in England, count the likes of Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton and Matthew Lowton among its graduates.

Heather Smith, Sheffield College’s executive director and Principal of Hillsborough College, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Sheffield United. This is an exciting new opportunity for promising young athletes, some of whom may obtain a professional contract or agree terms at a semi-professional club on successful completion of the programme.

“It offers the chance to improve their performance but the course also equip students with the broader vocational knowledge and skills needed for a career in the football, leisure and sports industries, as well as the chance to go onto further study at degree level course at college or university.”

Applicants, aged 16-18, have to attend practical trials and pass an interview before being offered a place. The next trials are on July 12, 20 and 26. Email for more information.

Students will study for a BTEC Diploma in Sport, Performance and Excellence at Level 3 – equivalent to two A Levels - at Hillsborough College, Livesey Street.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1