Sheffield United v Swansea City: Developing Premier League talent down the Lane

STEVEN GERRARD and Patrick Vieira are two of the best midfielders of the Premier League era.

Newcomer: Liverpool player Ben Woodburn at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Newcomer: Liverpool player Ben Woodburn at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

So when Ben Woodburn and Kean Bryan – Sheffield United’s two latest signings – reveal how the footballing legends have personally helped mould their fledgling careers it is not difficult to appreciate the potential talent that has walked through the door at Bramall Lane.

Teenage forward Woodburn – already a Wales international like the player he replaces at United in the departed David Brooks – has signed on a season-long loan from Liverpool.

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The 18-year-old is highly rated by Liverpool chief Jurgen Klopp and worked under coach Gerrard at Anfield last season.

Bryan, a 21-year-old defender who arrived at United on a free transfer from Manchester City on Thursday, is another with a Premier League pedigree.

The England youth international credits Frenchman Vieira – the engine in Arsenal’s midfield in the Nineties – as a key figure in his development at Manchester City.

“Patrick Viera was probably my biggest influence at City,” said Kean. “He took me in as reserve team manager and made me captain at a young age.

“I have to thank him for that. I’ve passed by lots of people and I’m thankful to them all. But I’m with Sheffield United now.

“I was very excited by the conversation I had with the manager (Chris Wilder). The club had a great time last season and I can’t wait to get going and kick on.

“I like possession-based football and that’s what Sheffield United do.

“I’m aggressive and I like bringing it out from the back. I want to show what I can do.”

After swapping City for a Blades education. Kean – who has had loan spells at Bury and Oldham – is hoping to follow Brooks’s example, after he earned a big-money move to the Premier League this summer.

He explained: “David Brooks, I was with him at Manchester City, and he wasn’t getting the game time so he came here.

“Hopefully,I can follow in his footsteps. I’ve been at City since I was 11 and so it was a big step to leave. I had a wonderful education there, but I know I can develop here. I spoke to David yesterday and he told me I’ll love it here. That was nice of him and it’s made me even more determined.

“The gaffer has told me it’s a great dressing room that’s really tight knit. I can’t wait to be a part of it.

“I’ve been out, to leagues that aren’t pretty or technical. I’ve got that side in me, but I am also ready to step up for a fight.

“A lot of people told me to go elsewhere, for the loans, but I’m glad I stayed here and did my education in England.”

As for Kop protege Woodburn – the youngest goalscorer in Liverpool’s history when he netted against Leeds United in a League Cup tie aged just 17 years, one month and 14 days – a season in the unforgiving Championship will continue his footballing education.

It is no coincidence that Klopp picked United, with Wilder’s attacking, free-flowing style not too far away from Liverpool’s own tactics.

“I think the style of play will really suit me and the manager will too,” Woodburn told The Yorkshire Post. “Hopefully,I’ll play lots of games and gain experience.

“Every time I watch the Championship it’s been a really exciting game. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

“It shows that the manager and the club are really highly thought of here. Jurgen Klopp just told me to enjoy myself and become a better player. He’s a unique character and his style suits me, too.

“Brooksy had a great season last time and if I can do what he’s done I’ll be happy.”

It is testament to Woodburn’s obvious potential that the Welsh international has been spoken about in the same revered terms as other Kop graduates Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.

Not that there is any chance of the praise swelling his ego.

“My mum wouldn’t let me get too big-headed anyway,” he said with a smile.

“Obviously at the time, it was nice to get the praise. But I don’t want to get stuck on the past. I want to look to the future and take care of that.

“Hopefully this will help me internationally as well. We’ve got lots of good young players coming through at Wales and we want to get to another big tournament. My strengths are getting forward, getting into the box and working hard for the team.”

Woodburn is the latest loan deal that United have brokered involving the elite of the Premier League.

It follows similar deals for Dean Henderson and James Wilson (Manchester United), Jamal Blackman (Chelsea) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham). It is a relationship og which Blades chief Wilder is rightly proud.

“Our track record is there – we have been in discussions with clubs all summer,” he said. “We have worked really hard to build up relationships; some work and some don’t.

“They are not daft, they do their homework on the clubs they are going to, how they are treated and looked after.

“We had Manchester United’s loan manager come here last week.

“These players are their assets, their future. If you loan something out that’s precious to you, you want to make sure it’s someone who would look after them like you would.

“Liverpool have seen what we did last season and how we treat players. So have Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea. This is just not a one-off.

“We have had (loan) players now from four big football clubs that are willing to allow their young players come to us.

“I think that’s a big pat on the back for the work we do, what the coaches do, and the standing we now have in the Championship.”

United have spent £200,000 on new Bramall Lane cameras to try to reduce trouble inside the stadium.