Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, believes more young players should be encouraged to experience non-league football before making their professional debuts.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game against Fleetwood Town, who won promotion from the Conference four years ago, Wilder insisted it would help them develop the “streetwise” streak required to carve a successful career in the game. Six members of United’s squad, including Mark Duffy (pictured), Chris Basham and Jake Wright, all experienced life outside the top four divisions before arriving at Bramall Lane and Wilder said: “I think that’s missing from academy football. I went to watch our under-23’s recently and we want that attitude coming right the way through. Let’s make sure the kids coming through play realistic football. Because when they get in the first team, it sure as hell is going to be realistic.”
“If you look at all the top players, they’ve all got that streetwise streak in them,” Wilder added. “Whether they are five foot six or like John Terry, they know what it’s about.”
Wilder, who started his career with Southampton, last week accused some footballers of being “too precious” for their own good after confirming trialist Reece Brown had agreed a permanent contract at Bramall Lane. The 48-year-old, who took charge of United in May, cut his managerial teeth with Alfreton and Halifax Town before leading Oxford back into the Football League. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, now of Everton, Graham Kelly and Jake Wright jnr all enjoyed spells on loan with non-league clubs after graduating from the Steelphalt Academy.
“You have to survive,” Wilder said. “My background and the background of a lot of the others lads here isn’t something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I played man’s football at 16 for Southampton and it was the best thing that happened to me. We were training with the first team, with the pro’s. Then you have to go and play against Portsmouth Royal Navy for Southampton. Away. All the best with that when you’ve got someone elbowing you and spitting at you.”
“Listen, I’m all for the game moving on,” Wilder added. “I don’t want our players crossing the line or cheating. “But we have to be big and strong and in a position where we’re not going to go out there and get smashed up.”