UPDATE: George Long did not travel with the team for Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Millwall. Youngster Aaron Ramsdale was on the bench as new No1 Simon Moore made his debut. Manager Manager Chris Wilder confirmed after the match that he and the goalkeeper would sit down at the club's Shirecliffe training ground on Monday to talk about his future. Wilder said it was up to Long to tell him if he wished to stay or look for a move elsewhere. "George has had a difficult, difficult start to the season," said the Blades boss.
LACK of ambition has suddenly caught up with George Long whose career at Sheffield United would seem to be over only two months after belatedly agreeing a new two-year contract.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper’s inconsistency so early in the season forced manager Chris Wilder to seek a new No1 in the shape of Simon Moore, a £500,000 arrival this week from Cardiff City. Unless the 26-year-old, himself an understudy to Scottish international David Marshall at the Bluebirds, fails to justify his price tag, Long has a big decision to make. Ask for a transfer or settle for a seat in the dugout.
The phrase ‘learning his trade’ often crops up when discussion turns to the former England Under-21 goalkeeper. Sheffield born and a product of the club’s Academy, he has made 100 League appearances for the Blades and has been at the Lane for 14 years. But to the frustration of many fans, he has been learning the basics of his trade for a tad too long. After all, he made his debut in United’s last Championship match, a 4-0 defeat at Swansea five years ago.
A member of the team beaten by Manchester United at the end of that season in the 2011 FA Youth Cup final, Long promised so much but has still to live up to expectation. A confident shot stopper but prone to mishaps and a hesitancy to command the six-yard box or come off his line.
PAUL POGBA, who at £100million has just become the world’s most expensive footballer after rejoining Manchester United, played in both legs of the 2011 FA Youth Cup final against the Blades.
The first leg, days after Sheffield United were relegated from the Championship, attracted a crowd 29,977 to Bramall Lane with Kyle McFadzean and Jordan Slew scoring in a 2-2 draw. Pogba, later released by manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and his teammates won the return leg 4-1 at Old Trafford to lift the trophy. Joe Ironside scored for the Blades.
This has contributed to him bearing the brunt, unfairly, of criticism from a section of United fans who have made him the whipping boy for the team’s dire start to the season. In particular his performance during a 1-1 draw at home to Rochdale where poor handling following a routine save gifted the Lancastrians the lead, has led to needless sarcasm from the Kop which has hindered the keeper’s efforts to recover confidence.
He suffered a similar fate on the first day of last season, singled out and dropped, again unfairly, after a 4-0 defeat at Gillingham. It took him another three months before re-establishing his position as No1 from Mark Howard.
Following the release of Howard, who has since joined Bolton and faced United in his new team’s 1-0 win on the opening day of the season, another senior goalkeeper as cover for the established No1 was always on Wilder’s wanted list. But the manager, unimpressed by Long’s frailties, upgraded his search to the extent of spending half-a-million pounds. The fee alone suggests Long’s future at the Lane is not bright.
After signing his new deal in June, Long said: “It was disappointing and frustrating to not get the promotion we all want. But personally it was good to play so many games in the first team and find a consistent level of performance throughout the season.”
His decision to accept the contact offer, originally put on the table when Nigel Adkins was in charge but revised down when Wilder took over, was a surprise to many. With interest from Championship clubs and one from the Premier League, it was difficult to understand why a presumably ambitious talent would want to remain in football’s third tier, especially on reduced terms to what was first mooted. Maybe a lack of confidence in his own ability and safety first came into play.
Exactly the attributes Wilder is trying to weed out of a squad which failed so badly last season and, despite a ruthless clear-out and his own additions, has let him down in this campaign. Now the chickens have come home to roost and Long appears to be a high profile casualty.
Moore, meanwhile, is determined to cement his place as No1 after playing second fiddle for so long. He joined Cardiff on a four-year deal in 2013 but was unable to establish himself and was loaned to Bristol City for a short spell.
It took him almost a year to make his debut at Brentford after signing in 2009. It wasn’t until 2012-13 when he made the position his own with 52 appearances for the Bees in all competitions. That included a Wembley appearance when Brentford were beaten by Yeovil Town, victors over the Blades under caretaker manager Chris Morgan in the semi-final. Moore's arrival at the Lane still represents something of a gamble for Wilder. The goalkeeper has just 33 senior appearances to his name in the last three years.
Acknowledging his determination to hold down a first team place at the Lane, Moore's words will ring true for Long. He said: “As a goalkeeper if you aren't playing it can become very frustrating and that was the case with me. I have worked with a fantastic keeper in David Marshall at Cardiff, but he is the best in the Championship and sitting on the bench is difficult to take.
"I hopefully now have an opportunity to play first-team football consistently and I'm confident I'll display my best form as a result."
Referring to his experience of life in League One with Brentford, he added: “I had four great years at Griffin Park, narrowly missing out on promotion via the play-offs to Yeovil, so I know what it takes to do well at this level.
“I just want to establish myself here and show to the fans why I have been brought in. Another big factor in coming was the chance to play at Bramall Lane. It's a wonderful stadium which generates a terrific atmosphere and speaking from experience as a member of opposition previously it is a special place to play your football.”
Not quite what George Long was expecting to hear when he signed on the dotted line in June.