IF circumstances had been different, international team-mates John Stones and Harry Maguire could easily have lined up together in Barnsley red long before they donned the white jersey of England alongside each other.
Stones’s progression through the age groups at Oakwell has been well chronicled, but what is less well-known is that Maguire used to play in the same age group as his Three Lions colleague at Barnsley before a twist of fate sent him down the M1 to Sheffield United.
Former Oakwell head of academy Mark Burton recalled: “Maguire was actually at Barnsley for three years and only moved because the club went into administration (in 2002). He was there with his brother Joe and he said, ‘I am going to have to go to Sheffield United because can you guarantee me that Barnsley will stay open?’
“I said, ‘Well, I can’t’. So he went away and there was no compensation. We did not know the future, so we could not promise the kid anything. But Sheffield United did really well with him.”
The Yorkshire-born talents carved niches at their respective clubs and while Burton remembers harbouring initial doubts about Maguire’s defensive credentials in comparison to Stones’s, he was soon won over. “We played against him at Under-18 (level) and Stonesy played a year younger. I remember saying, ‘We will expose him down the sides as he is a big lad’.
“But he never got caught out of position and was always in good areas and good on the ball. I thought, ‘He is not bad’.
“But, being totally honest, Stonesy was miles ahead of him then. But Maguire has now learned how to play out and is arguably a better ‘defender’ as he puts his head on things. Good luck to him.”