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Should more United youngsters follow Sam Graham to the Central Coast?

Academy players from England’s top sides are conventionally sent out on-loan down the English pyramid system, obtaining first-team football at a club in a lower division than their parent club. However, modern football is adapting with more and more young English talents preferring to be sent abroad in a bid for regular football, instead of rocketing down to a league below.

Sheffield United are a club following this trend, currently having three academy prospects out on-loan outside of Britain which leaves the question, is it more effective sending academy players out on-loan abroad?

Sam Graham and Stephen Mallon, both joined the A-League outfit Central Coast Mariners in January and have both been brought directly into the club’s first-team plans. Whilst, Jordan Doherty joined Tampa Bay Rowdies, who are coached by former Blades defender Neil Collins.

Focusing on Graham’s career so far, having developed in United’s Shirecliffe academy since the age of 10, the 18-year-old defender had no knowledge of football outside of Sheffield. Therefore, to give the youngster some valuable first-team experience, Chris Wilder sent him out on-loan to League Two club Oldham Athletic at the start of this current campaign. However failing to impress then manager Frankie Bunn, Graham only managed a handful of league appearances which led to him returning to Bramall Lane early January.

A-League Rd 20 - Central Coast v Brisbane : News Photo

Sam Graham celebrates as the Central Coast Mariners battle back against Brisbane Roar FC

Since then, the young centre-half joined the Australian side, and has managed to print his name on the starting line-up of every league fixture since his arrival. But, not only is Graham receiving consistent first-team football, he is also getting the leisure of experiencing a different countries lifestyle and culture, in conjunction with improving his footballing ability.

In an exclusive interview with Mariners coach Andy Thomson, when asked how Graham and Mallon had fitted into the group, he said: “The boys adapted to the Australian game almost instantly and are always putting in 100% commitment during training.”

“We know their situation, and their desire to play football matches, and so far they’re giving us no reason to sit them out. We obviously don’t have the financial power of some of the other clubs in our league but having a partnership with a big club like Sheffield United is a great asset, and you’ve got to thank Monty for that. I can only see the relationship between the two clubs growing stronger in the coming years.”

Soccer - Hyundai A-League - Central Coast Mariners vs. Queensland Roar : News Photo

The Central Coast Stadium, formerly Bluetongue Stadium

Nonetheless, the Blades aren’t the first British team to capture rewards of having a foreign affiliate, Chelsea have sent several wonderkids over to Vitesse in the Netherlands to attain first-team football. Mason Mount, and Lewis Baker are two examples, who spent a season in Holland, before making their careers back in England, as both players are now enjoying successful spells at Derby and Reading respectively.

On a smaller scale, West-Midlands outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers have recently formed an affiliation with Spanish club FC Jumilla. The Wanderers currently have five of their academy prospects out on-loan there, with the hope these youngsters can gain experience to be able to challenge for a first-team spot back in England.

Former St Mirren coach Thomson also spoke about his beliefs on why younger English talent should take the venture away from England and challenge themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

“I do think more young British players should challenge themselves and move away from Britain if they’re not getting enough first-team chances. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone and trying to adapt to other countries rules and style of play will only help you develop, as I’ve learnt during my time coaching outside of Britain,” Thomson said.

“Learning and getting advise from a number of different coaches can only benefit young players, and especially if the foreign clubs where you are loaned have a similar philosophy like Sheffield United and us, it can only benefit a player when they return back home.”

Categorically, it may start to become a regular occurrence for top-flight British clubs to send their talented academy prospects on-loan to foreign countries, instead of keeping them in a domestic league. Displaying, that it could be more effective for player development, if players are able to gain first-team experiences outside of the English system.