Ben Whiteman could be forgiven for looking at the meteoric rise of Sheffield United’s David Brooks and thinking “that could be me”.
The midfield duo came through the Blades’ Academy together, and both were due to be sent out on loan in the summer to continue their footballing education.
But while Whiteman, 21, joined neighbours Doncaster Rovers, Blades boss Chris Wilder had a change of heart and cancelled Brooks’s temporary move to Chesterfield.
This proved to be an inspired decision, with Brooks, 20, being one of United’s leading lights this season, helping them to second place in the Championship.
The reward for Brooks was a lucrative long-term contract at United and international honours with a call-up by Wales.
In contrast, Whiteman has been learning his craft in League One, where Rovers languish in 17th spot in the table.
But he is happy at the Keepmoat, playing regular first-team football, and in no rush to return to the Lane.
“I definitely want to stay here and play as many games as I can,” said Whiteman. “Let’s see where that takes us.
“At my age it is about playing games, getting used to the Football League. I just need to try and get as many games under my belt as I can.
“My parent club are flying at the moment, so I won’t be getting games there.
I am learning every day from the manager and the coaching staff. I just want to get in that team and show what I can do.Ben Whiteman
“I try and stay in contact with most of the (United) boys, they are top lads, and they keep an eye on me.
“United are doing well, hopefully we can start replicating that,” added Whiteman, who signed a two-year Blades deal in June. “I have another year after this season, so I will go back there in the summer and see what happens.”
Brooks and Whiteman played together several times for United’s first team last season in cup competitions.
It was Whiteman who looked the better prospect, playing league football for the Blades at the end of the 2015-16 season before a loan spell with Mansfield Town in League Two last year.
But Brooks has been a relevation this season, and Whiteman is full of admiration for his former midfield partner.
“Brooks is a top talent, recognised by Wales now, in their squad, and we always knew he had that in him,” he said.
“This year he has surprised a lot of people in how quickly he has come onto the scene. I hope he can do that for the rest of the season.
“He always had that little bit of spark; he is a really good player.
“He has surprised people. He was supposed to be going to Chesterfield on loan, but has been chucked into the first team and is flying.
“It’s been a year now since I played with Brooks. He was quite slight when I was playing with him, but it looks like he has put on a bit of weight.
“But he always had that little bit of magic. I always knew it was there, and he is showing it now.
“Not just Brooks, though, but everyone in the team. They were in League One last year, they breezed it to be fair, but I don’t think any of them expected to be where they are are at the moment.
“I think they have taken the league by storm and hopefully they can keep it going.”
So, if the Blades do get promoted, does Whiteman dream of being a Premier league player next season?
“No,” he said emphatically. “I am not there at the moment. Obviously, I try to keep an eye out for them as much as I can, they are doing really well at the moment.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself and think I am going to be a Premier League player next season.”
For now, there is the immediate challenge of helping Rovers climb away from the League One relegation zone, starting with this lunchtime’s South Yorkshire derby with Rotherham United.
Doncaster have struggled to match results to some decent displays, but have put together a three-game unbeaten run.
After a 1-0 win at Bury in the league, Rovers edged Scunthorpe United on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy, before an emphatic 6-2 FA Cup win over Ebbsfleet last weekend.
“I am delighted with how things have gone recently, we have picked up some good results, and hopefully we can carry it on this weekend,” said Whiteman, who netted a hat-trick against Southend United last month before grabbing the winner at Gigg Lane.
“Results-wise, it is not a good place to be at the moment, 17th in League One. We came into the season really wanting to be up there.
“Performances have been okay, apart from a few games like Walsall – which wasn’t good enough. Hopefully we can start climbing that table.
“I am learning every day from the manager and the coaching staff. I just want to get in that team and show what I can do.”
Veteran James Coppinger was in the Rovers’ side the last time they faced neighbours Rotherham, over a decade ago. Whiteman believes the experience of Coppinger, 36, and the likes of Andy Butler, could be crucial this afternoon.
“It’s a massive game, it’s been spoken about around the club all week,” said Whiteman. “We want to send the Rovers fans home with a win, get three points.
“It’s a derby and the atmosphere will be right up there, hopefully the game will be too.
“You look at the senior lads going into this game – people like Coppinger, Butler – having played numerous games, and a lot of derbies, they can pass on their knowledge. They have been involved in these sorts of environments before and can pass that on to the younger boys.”