Added on: 24th February, 2012
Sheffield - the birthplace of football. It was here where the very first team, Sheffield FC, formed way back in 1857. Legends such as Gordon Banks, Phil Jagielka and Kevin Davis were all born and bred in Sheffield. Now, the oldest footballing city in the world is being relied upon to produce England’s future stars.
English football is in disarray. The national side, who suffered a humiliating World Cup campaign, has been left high and dry by Capello’s departure and a certain senior English player is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Something needs to change.
It is no surprise then that England’ s caretaker manager, Stuart Pearce, has named a youthful looking squad for the February friendly against the Netherlands to inject some much needed vitality. Amongst regular names such as Rooney and Gerard there are places for Sheffield’s very own Kyle Walker and Gary Cahil.
This caps off a brilliant year for the two home grown talents. Walker has cemented himself into a Tottenham Hotspurs team who are having an unprecedented season while Cahil completed a huge move to Chelsea during the January Transfer Window.
Their success is all down to the youth development programs that Sheffield prides itself on. Both players started off kicking a football around the streets of Sheffield; playing in the local park with dreams of superstardom. It was Sheffield United’s much coveted Youth Academy, however, that gave Walker his big break at the tender age of 7. The academy helped him realise his potential, developing his skills so he could move up into the senior squad. Cahil, on the other hand, began his career in Sheffield’s Sunday League system playing for AFC Dronfield before being spotted by Aston Villa.
Yet even though it plays such an important role in a player’s development, the grass roots level of the game is often overlooked. Rich teams like Manchester City and Chelsea would rather spend millions of pounds on huge name signings rather than trust the home grown talent in their academies. Fortunately Sheffield United has one of the best youth academies in the country and the team gives local talent a chance to prove themselves on the big stage. However, with the fragile economic climate already having devastating effects on the likes of Rangers and Portsmouth, it would be no surprise to see many big teams following in Sheffield United’s footsteps and bringing more players through the academy. These hard times could therefore prove to be a blessing in disguise for the future of English football.
Alongside Walker and Cahil, players such as Kyle Naughton and Jordan Slew are also making strides into the premier league and have Sheffield United’s Youth Academy to thank. Last year Sheffield United’s Youth Team broke new ground as they reached the FA Youth Cup final for the first time. Although they narrowly missed out to Manchester United, the incredible performance displayed the huge amount of talent being nurtured in the academy and proved that Sheffield, a city steeped in history, is still looking to the future.