DAVID BROOKS signed a further extension to his contract five days after this post was published. In theory he has committed his future at Bramall Lane until 2021. In practise Sheffield United have ensured he will leave sooner rather than later for a fee the size of which has never been seen in S2. Cash which could be used to strengthen substantially in several departments. From club and the player’s point of view it’s win-win and makes the original post below, even more relevant. Blades supporters, of course, would like to see the midfield phenomenon remain at the Lane, but not many will believe that is realistic unless United are in the Premier League next season and Brooks is still at the club to see it. Even then it would remain a big ask given the huge cost of building a squad good enough to stay in the top flight. The cash legacy Brooks would leave behind, however, for team development is a perfect remedy to cushion the blow
CHRIS WILDER is adamant. “He’s not going anywhere. We are building here.”
Sheffield United will, however, be breaking the habit of a lifetime if come January or next summer all bids are rejected for the most naturally gifted footballer at Bramall Lane since Tony Currie pulled on a red and white-striped shirt.
Yes, I’m talking about extraordinarily talented 20-year-old David Brooks. Wilder’s assertion is admirable and one surely backed by every Blades fan. But the premise is fatally flawed. In political speak it’s more akin to aspiration than a manifesto pledge.
United have form. Decades of it and there is no evidence to suggest that it is about to change. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was sold to Everton for £1.5million in 2016 and hit the headlines last summer, scoring the winner in England Under-20s’ World Cup triumph in South Korea. The Sheffield-born striker now regularly partners Wayne Rooney at Goodison Park and recently was preferred to the man who is Manchester United's record goalscorer. It won't have escaped Brooks' notice that Calvert-Lewin made just three League starts for the Blades and a meagre 12 appearances in total.
Aaron Ramsdale, at 18 and regarded as one of the most promising young goalkeeper’s in the country, sold to Bournemouth in January, for £1m. “There's been interest in Aaron for quite a while and despite rejecting smaller offers, this bid was too good to turn down. The bid exceeded the club's valuation,” said Wilder at the time. Ramsdale made only two starts for United.
So what is so different about Brooks? Selling the family silver is more often than not an unavoidable fact of life at the Lane. If, as is inevitable come the January transfer window a Premier League club or one from abroad offers several millions, because that’s what the midfield player is worth, will United turn it down? There’s a first time for everything but it's highly unlikely.
It’s within the financial interests of clubs to cash in for a handsome profit and for players to move on to greater things. Hence the steady drip, drip, out of Bramall Lane. Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, Harry Maguire. Top scorers Brian Deane and Jan Age Ftjortoft on the same jaw-dropping day.
A self-fulfilling prophecy; catch 22. For players of that calibre to stay the club must have an ability to fulfil their ambitions and salary expectations. For the club to remain in a healthy financial state it must sell and therefore never be in the position to meet aspiration.
If only the Blades had a wealthy benefactor to change all that. They could sell half the club for, let’s say, a nominal £1 to a Saudi Arabian royal who would in return make ‘game-changing’ investment. Transforming United from a selling club to one that indeed is building. Dream on.
Wilder believes that Brooks’ best career development interests remain, for this season at least, at Bramall Lane. Of course, the Blades boss is right. But from the player’s point of view it would carry more resonance if he had not been the subject of mixed messages.
It is difficult to understand, for example, how Brooks was originally destined to spend at least half this season on loan to Chesterfield. The player had already demonstrated enough in relative obscurity to have been called up to England’s squad for the Toulon Tournament in June, which they won with Brooks being named player of the competition. He hasn’t just discovered the sublime skills or football intelligence which now all Blades fans are aware of. By the manager’s admission he’d been displaying them on United’s training ground for some time.
So that begs the question why was he unable to break into United’s League One title winning side, especially towards the end of the campaign when the Blades were sweeping all before them?
Apparently for sentimental reasons, except the man expressing them is renowned for being anything but. “We’ve known about Brooko ever since we walked through the door here,” said Wilder. “It was only because we wanted to reward the lads who had got us into that position last season that he didn’t play more. I’ve got to say, if I’d been one of them, I wouldn’t have been happy if I’d been in that situation and then not played.”
United assistant manager Alan Knill, meanwhile, commented that Brooks was close to playing last season but not quite ready. “We thought, for his education, it might have been good for him to go out and play,” said the Blades No2. Brooks made four appearances last season, all in cup matches, and was entrusted with just two starts.
So to recap, Brooks was good enough to make the grade last season but was prevented because the manager was showing loyalty to his core group. Or, if you listen to Knill, was not quite ready to be given a chance. Then, despite acknowledging his obvious talent, it was decided to sentence what we now know to be United’s biggest talent to League Two with relegated Chesterfield. Part of the deal struck to re-sign striker Ched Evans from the Spireites.
That simply doesn’t make sense unless Brooks has been the subject of a huge misjudgment. It was only after returning from a starring role for England that forced a rethink.
Since then of course the young Warrington-born magician has switched national allegiance (his mother is Welsh). Just two appearances for Wales Under-21s, he scored in the first of them, a 3-0 Euro 2019 qualifier against Switzerland in Biel, convinced boss Chris Coleman to promote him to the senior squad. An unused sub for make-or-break World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland, Brooks has nevertheless made rapid international progress.
That has been Brooks’ story. Whenever he has been given the chance he has impressed, whether it be for England, Wales or United. Travis Binnon, the Blades Academy manager, said: “There are lots of people who deserve credit for bringing Brooksy on. To be fair to the lad, though, I think it’s time he took some himself.”
Yes, he is young and needs protecting. Many a starlet has fallen by the wayside after being thrown in at the deep end too early. But even so, it would seem that until very recently United have been caught napping.
Going into the latest international break, Brooks had still made just three starts for the Blades. Then only as a last resort, playing out of position as an emergency striker for two of them. On all three occasions he has given man-of-the-match displays. Completely unphased and measured on pure ability head and shoulders above the rest. Of his eight appearances from off the bench, he has similarly shone in almost all of them.
There is no doubt the manager is particularly good for Brooks at this stage of his career. While fans and media wax lyrical which could turn many a player’s head, Wilder remains reassuringly uncompromising.
When Brooks produced another outstanding performance in the heat of the Sheffield derby win at Hillsborough to earn rave reviews, his manager remained circumspect. “David just does what he does,” he said. “We see that every time he goes out on the training pitch. But he should have scored out there and I told him that when he came off. Instead of clapping our fans he should have put the ball in the back of the net.”
The case being made about Brooks’ immediate future is that he will have a greater opportunity to play first team football and build upon his skills by gaining valuable Championship experience.
A return to Manchester City, for example, where he was rejected at 16, could result in him drowning amid the sheer depth of expensive talent drawn from around the world. Possibly to make a handful of senior appearances at best before being jettisoned. Older, wealthier, but with almost as much to prove as when he started.
This all makes perfect sense and serves as a warning for young Brooks. But for a club that makes much of its ability to discover, develop and give talent a chance, it would appear he remained under wraps at United a tad too long. As did Calvert-Lewin. Indeed, despite all the headlines Brooks has attracted recently he has still to establish himself as a first choice player.
It is something which needs to change. The job of keeping him at the Lane, which Wilder claims optimistically is a given, is hard enough in the face of the financial realities facing club and player. It may also be something lingering at the back of Brooks’ mind next time the big boys come calling.