David Brooks could be in line for a surprise return to Sheffield United duty in a fortnight’s time.
The Wales international has not played for the Blades since the 2-1 defeat to Bristol City on December 8 at Bramall Lane, due to a bout of glandular fever which left him hospitalised.
But the 20-year-old has returned to light training, and Blades manager Chris Wilder is hoping the midfielder could be in contention to face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, February 3.
“It’s a difficult thing to treat, it’s slowly, slowly,” said Wilder. “But speaking to the doctor and the physios, he’s doing well.
“He’s out there and ramping it up, doing extra work now.
“We’ve been told, possibly, he might be available for the Wolves game, which is great news from our point of view.”
We’ve got to keep our best players, especially the younger ones, and nurture and develop them.Chris Wilder on the way ahead.
United have been hit hard by the loss of Brooks, and injured midfielder Paul Coutts, claiming just one win in their last 10 Championship outings.
But if the Blades can take any positives from Brooks’s absence, it has helped silence speculation of a big-money move to the Premier League this month.
Before his extended spell on the sidelines, Brooks had been one of the stars of the Championship this season, and he was rewarded with a long-term deal to stay at Bramall Lane before Christmas.
Wilder was yesterday adamant United have no intention of selling one of their prized assets.
He stressed: “I make that decision. I think I’m in line with the owners and what their vision of the football club is.
“That is, we’ve got to keep our best players, especially the younger ones, and nurture and develop them.
“If there comes a time when he goes, we’ll all know that. But now is not the time, I’m trying to build. Brooksy is part of that, a big part of it.
“He’s signed a new contract and we’d have got the vibe through that if he didn’t want to stay.
“That’s refreshing and speaks volumes about the group of players, how they are treated right.”
Four United players who could leave this month are striker Caolan Lavery, midfielders Samir Carruthers and Nathan Thomas, and defender Ben Heneghan – who has been linked with Rotherham United. The quartet are all in talks about loan moves, following the arrival in January of new signings Lee Evans, James Wilson, Ryan Leonard and Ricky Holmes.
“There’s interest and offers for Samir, Caolan, Ben and Nathan,” confirmed Wilder. “We’ve had a chat and they need to get some football between now and the end of the season.”
But Wilder believes the footballing education of youngsters like Regan Slater and Rhys Norrington-Davies – two of the latest players to come through United’s Academy – will be better served by staying at the Lane.
“I think it’s important, like with David Brooks last year, that this year they experience the attitude and environment of training with the first team,” said Wilder.
“Obviously at Championship level and the position we’re in, I think they’ll learn more at the moment, from the habit our first team players have got, than possibly by playing 15 games.
“We’ll look at it in the summer, we’ll see how they kick on. Brooksy is the obvious example, he came back and really kicked on. Having me barking in his ear every five minutes, that might have helped him.
“Joking aside, when people talk about ‘what have you done with him?’ it is the environment that has been created, and the players with what they’re about, that drives these younger players on to another level.
“Being with players who have got good habits, who want to win Monday to Friday and on a Saturday and Tuesday night, that’s a big thing for players.
“Turning the clock back, when I was a kid, stepping in to training with the first team was sink or swim pretty much.
“Those boys know it’s a harsh environment but they know, if they come through it, they’ll be better players and characters.”
The Blades’ injury problems seem to be clearing, with Ched Evans back in training, while defender Kieron Freeman is also closing in on a return to first-team duties. It means by the end of January, only injured Coutts – out for the season with a broken leg – will be missing.
Wilder confirmed: “Ched will play possibly an hour on Monday for the Under-23s at Ipswich and maybe get another one after that.
“Kieron is back out on the grass, too. Hopefully, by the end of the month, we’ll only have Couttsy out. They are getting more minutes which is great from our point of view.”
One player to already exit the Lane this month is Cameron Carter-Vickers – the 20-year-old who played 18 times for United this season – who has returned to Tottenham following a loan spell.
Wilder explained: “Cam has done great and was a big part of what we’ve done at the start of the season. But with Ryan coming in, and with Bash (Chris Basham) being here, I couldn’t see him getting in regularly.”