IF ever David Brooks required further incentive to leave Bramall Lane as is widely expected this summer he need look no further than former Blade Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The Sheffield-born striker and Blades fan who turned 21 this month, briefly returned to the club he joined as an eight-year-old amid a blaze of publicity earlier this week whilst on international duty. He gave an interview to local paper The Star which will not have escaped Brooks’ or his agent’s attention.
Calvert-Lewin, signed by Everton in 2016 for £1.5million but now worth at least 15 times that, realised a boyhood dream by scoring in front of the Kop as England Under 21s beat Ukraine
2-1 in a European Championship qualifier. Part of his interview beforehand reads like a blueprint for Brooks’ career path.
“Everton gave me the platform in the Premier League and it’s worked out well for me so far,” explained Calvert-Lewin who won an under-20 World Cup winner’s medal last June, scoring the winner for England against Venezuela in South Korea. “But Sheffield United, leaving Sheffield United, was never going to be easy because I’d been there since I was eight years old.
“I’ve come on leaps and bounds at Everton, getting in the first team and then also here with the under-21s.” He added: “I left United when I was 19 and I was still learning my craft, as I am now. But I’ve improved my movement and dealing with the ball under pressure. I’m used to playing in bigger circumstances in front of more fans so I feel more relaxed on the pitch now too.”
Prophetic words which will strike a chord with United’s young midfield maestro who attracts attention from admiring club scouts including some across Europe.
Well established in the Premier League where teammate Wayne Rooney’s been won over as one of his biggest admirers, Calvert-Lewin has a bright future. Managed correctly, Brooks, the most talented midfielder seen at the Lane since Tony Currie, has an even brighter one. It should be said to appear in the same sentence as Currie is a huge achievement, especially for someone so young, but he still has some distance to travel to lace the great man’s boots.
Brooks, capped twice by Wales shortly after switching allegiance from England, his mother is from Llangollen, and Calvert-Lewin have a shared experience at the Lane. A curious one at that. The Everton forward was granted only three league starts – and remember United were in football’s third tier – before the Toffees came calling. A year and a half later he has started 28 times for Everton and made 52 appearances in all competitions before today's meeting with Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Brooks, travelled with triumphant England Under 20s to the Toulon Tournament last summer where he scored in the final against Ivory Coast and was voted the 12-nation competition’s best player. He did that in the knowledge that on his return he was set spend this season on loan at League Two Chesterfield.
How was that decision arrived at? Brooks surely didn’t transform himself from promising youngster to becoming United’s prized asset and a young international star overnight. As United romped to promotion last season Brooks was an afterthought. He started only one of three EFL Trophy appearances and an FA Cup tie.
Of course the player was still in an early development stage, but given the stellar class Brooks demonstrates at almost every opportunity, that now seems a wasted chance to advance his trade in a winning environment and at a level that he must surely have been able to take in his stride.
Such is the anticipation of big-money suitors for Brooks since last summer he has twice signed extended contract offers the latter an improved four-year deal in October. Unless someone has taken their eye off the ball you don’t earn that overnight either. “Without doubt, he is one of the hottest properties outside the top flight,” said boss Wilder five months after sanctioning his loan to the Spireites, a verbal agreement which was part of the deal to re-sign Ched Evans.
United’s U-turn infuriated Chesterfield. Nevertheless it still took until September, eight matches into the campaign, for Brooks to be granted his full league debut. Such is the confidence in his own ability Brooks said after the 1-0 home defeat to Norwich: "It's quite easy to play in front of this crowd, they want you to do so well and are always right behind you. I'm delighted to be part of the group and I'm just looking to kick on."
Kick-on is an understatement. The way Brooks toyed with Sheffield Wednesday’s Jack Hunt in the 4-2 win at Hillsborough will remain legendary Steel City derby video footage.
Illness aside which sidelined Brooks from early December until recently, he has made only five league starts in 23 appearances this season. He sat out the entirety of United’s Good Friday 1-1 draw at Brentford on the bench. Such is United's struggle to score, his three goals make him joint fourth top scorer with John Lundstrum.
Everton and Liverpool are among those reported to have been preparing bids in the January transfer window before Warrington-born Brooks contracted glandular fever which, oddly, may have worked in United’s favour.
His return to full fitness was confirmed last week. Brooks completed 90 minutes after discussions between club and country to aid recovery led to him stepping back down to Wales Under 21’s European Championship qualifying defeat against Bosnia Herzegovina in Zenica. Now he is expected by many fans to play a key role as Sheffield United enter the final straight in their battle to reach the play-offs.
Brooks was coached by Manchester City from the age of seven but released in his mid teens. His allegiance to United is more of gratitude and familiarity than the ingrained sense of belonging which nevertheless didn’t stop Calvert-Lewin jumping at the chance to further his career. A move which has worked out so well.
Blades boss Chris Wilder has repeatedly stated that he wants Brooks to remain at the Lane. That, of course, is unlikely to happen even if promotion to the Premier League does come to pass at the end of May. When the bids arrive it will not be in the manager’s hands.
Tottenham are rumoured to be the front-runners for Brooks’ signature along with serious interest from several other top flight clubs here and abroad. Bundesliga club represantives are among those keeping a constant eye on the youngster.
Calvert-Lewin has proven he made the right career decision. Even if United had been in the Championship at the time rather than League One it would still have been the best move. When it does come for Brooks it will be the right one, too.
The inevitable lure of clubs that operate way beyond the level of United’s financial reach, not forgetting the personal wealth that comes with it, will win out. It isn’t even a contest. Of course, if the Blades were to win promotion this season Brooks is a man they can’t afford to lose. Maybe Premier League status coupled with a big wage rise might be enough to hang on to him.
But as Calvert-Lewin’s experience since leaving the Lane demonstrates, it does beg the question are United maximising potential while it’s still within their grasp?