Sheffield United v Burnley: Patience the priority if Blades are to make most of next young crop

Sheffield United past and future are due to meet in the middle of the Bramall Lane pitch on Saturday.

Four years ago, Sander Berge was the great hope to push the Blades to a brighter future. Now, with Berge in the claret and blue of Burnley, it is Oliver Arblaster.

The 19-year-old is not on his own – Andre Brooks, Will Osula and Daniel Jebbison have also been earmarked as standard-bearers manager Chris Wilder will look to rebuild around from the wreckage of looming Premier League relegation.

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The Blades have a rich tradition of producing top footballers which is not just a thing of the black-and-white past.

Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Aaron Ramsdale and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have worn England's Three Lions under Gareth Southgate but Wilder is keen to make more out of this generation.

Because whilst Sheffield United got 138 league starts from that quartet, Maguire made 133, the rest sold on quickly (Ramsdale was later bought back, then sold again) to try to put jam on the table today, and worry about jam tomorrow later.

Maybe in time the biggest contribution of Wilder's second spell as manager might be getting Arblaster and Brooks' autographs on new contracts. Osula signed a four-year deal in October and whilst weekly questions about Jebbison's are still not getting a "yes", Wilder seems to regard it as a formality.

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That is not to say all four will be in the team three years from now, but if they are in someone else's, the Blades will be a lot richer.

PROSPECTS: Will Osula (left) and Oliver Arblaster (centre) with Sheffield United manager Chris WilderPROSPECTS: Will Osula (left) and Oliver Arblaster (centre) with Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder
PROSPECTS: Will Osula (left) and Oliver Arblaster (centre) with Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

Most Premier League scouts could probably give you chapter and verse on Arblaster and the way he handles the ball is what top clubs look for. He still has lots to learn, but the big boys like to get them early these days.

"Time and patience is key for these young boys," warns Wilder. "In the past we've possibly made hasty decisions or had to make decisions from a financial point of view.

"There's no desire from the board or the owner to cash in on our young players.

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"Are they going to play 46 games next season or 38 in the Premier League (he cannot resign himself to relegation)? No, but I'm not seeing a lot of really young players do that.

"We have to take control of that situation. It's just doing the right things we feel we should be doing as a football club."

Persuading them to stay will not have been straight-forward.

"The journey, the ambition of the club even in the position we're in, it doesn't last forever," says Wilder, when asked what selling points he believes registered with them. "This is not going to be the death of the club if we don't achieve what we want to achieve (Premier League safety). It'll fight again.

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"And there's a pathway for them.

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"They'll see the quality of coaching, information and help, the importance of the likes of Jack Lester and Keith (Andrews) and Alan (Knill) and Matt Prestridge in improving their game.

"It's a great place to learn your football in front of 30-odd thousand and improve their skills.

"You either establish yourself here or your performances put you in the shop window if they are ambitious enough and every player should be.

"They've got to give as much as we give but we feel that attitude's ingrained in them in the academy."

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Most managers talk about "pathways" but Wilder has walked the walk, even at Premier League level.

"It's something our club has to be good at – dominating the area in terms of the players coming in and the pathway," he says, having given Brooks and Arblaster their head this season, as predecessor Paul Heckingbottom did with Osula in the early months and Jebbison when he was caretaker manager in the last Premier League campaign.

"We're always speaking to young players, trying to convince them this is a good place to be. It has been long before I came.

"We're not just investing in it to be Cat 1 (a top-rated academy), we want to produce our own players whether to play 250 league games (for us) or to have a resell (value).

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"Hopefully they'll see the players who have come through previously, what's happening this season and will continue to happen."

This most depressing season could actually be a good thing in the long term if the Blades make good decisions from here.

"Results haven't been good enough and certain performances have been well below what is expected but I'm incredibly positive about the future when we talk about the young players, the new training ground (bought this year), what we can do here (at Shirecliffe) from an academy point of view," says Wilder.

"Can we slug it out with the big boys financially? No, I think we all understand that. We have to be sustainable, we have to be smart, we have to try and find those nuggets.

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"It has been a painful season but I'm watching Leeds United on the TV and there's 39-40,000 at Elland Road a season on from relegation. Maybe not over the last two or three games, but one of the games I watched, it was amazing, it was bouncing. People were talking about it being one of the best atmosphere's there's ever been at Elland Road.

"I think you're seeing early signs of recovery (at Sheffield United) and the supporters are seeing that."