ANYONE believing David Brooks had a big future at Sheffield United when he signed an improved four-year-contract little more than eight months ago, needs to get out more.
Just as you can take with a pinch of salt manager Chris Wilder’s fanciful claim days before the departure of the club’s greatest asset that the Blades will not be a selling club under his watch unless ‘silly money’ is involved.
Well, £12million for Brooks was certainly not that. It was market value for a young player contracted to Bramall Lane until 2021.
United are of course a selling club. They have been in my 49 years of watching them and it will remain so until they join Europe’s elite. So don’t hold your breath. Fret not, it really isn’t up for debate.
Brooks only put pen to paper last October because it was belatedly recognised just what a talent the midfield player, who turns 21 next week, was as the club naturally rushed to secure the prospect of a big pay day before the January transfer window opened.
The event United were so keen to publicise, came six months after he had first signed a new deal and was only what any sensible club would have done.
That he contracted glandular fever in December, sidelining him for two-and-a-half months, postponed the inevitable. Premier League Bournemouth, Tottenham and Liverpool had already established themselves as early leading contenders for his signature. Scouts from abroad were amongst the regular posse watching him, including several from the Bundesliga.
Brooks, anxious for a move at the first opportunity switched agents at the end of the season with the express wish of achieving it. Last week Bournemouth followed through paying a reported initial £12m, some say slightly less, for the Welsh international. Up to a possible £3m in add-ons could follow and a sell-on clause is guaranteed to net United another dividend.
A no-brainer for Brooks. He has secured the perfect move for his development under Eddie Howe, a progressive manager renowned for giving youth a chance. He encourages the type of football in which his ball-playing first recruit of the summer will thrive.
An exceptionally well run club, The Cherries – ground capacity 11,360 – play at the highest level but unlike Spurs and others small enough to offer a route to the first team sooner rather than later.
“He’s a player we have been looking at for a long time, someone we have admired, is technically very good and has huge potential," said Howe.
“David offers a real creative threat, high technical ability; he is able to play a couple of positions – wide on the right or as a second striker – and has been used in both roles by Sheffield United and Wales.
“He has a good attitude and is a really ambitious lad who wants to get to the top in the game and we will help him get there."
As much as Blades fans would wish otherwise, a no-brainer for their club, too. There was never any hope of United being a vehicle to fulfil Brooks’ ambition unless they were in the Premier League. Even then any of the aforementioned would have come calling and been hard to turn down.
So money in the bank, hopefully a good percentage of it finding its way to Wilder in order to strengthen his squad, and a prospect of more to follow from the south coast. In the real world what’s not to like?
Well, it wouldn’t have made any difference in the final analysis, but the handling of Brooks does offer up some cause for concern. Especially if United are going to get the best out of their home grown talent in the future before bowing to the inevitable.
Brooks, for example played no part in the march to the League One title, even in the latter months when the Blades were so dominant. Was that not a moment to give youth a chance? Especially one so gifted?
The answer is revealed by the decision of Wilder and his staff when United were in early preparation for their return to the Championship. Brooks’ interest was best served by loaning him to Chesterfield, just relegated to League Two, for a minimum of six months.
A plan rapidly reversed after the United youngster returned from England Under-21’s Toulon Trophy triumph a few weeks later. Not only did he give England the lead in the final against Ivory Coast which finished 1-1 and was won on penalties, he was named player of the tournament.
Much to the Spireites' annoyance, on when Brooks’ was back from France he was withheld from the loan agreement, part of the deal which returned Ched Evans to the Lane. Louis Reed sacrificed instead.
Had Brooks overnight become the most gifted and valuable player by far on United’s books after a sprinkling of magic dust? A youngster worth a club record received fee of £12m and three full international caps for Wales after switching allegiance, a year later? Or was it a major error of judgment on the management’s part?
Strange to think that as he looks forward to life in the top flight on a reported salary of £30,000 a week (£1.56m per annum), Reed, the youngest to have played a league match for the Blades as a 16-year-old, is preparing for a much different experience with League One Peterborough after moving for an undisclosed but modest fee. He played 57 matches for United but only one under Wilder who clearly does not rate him.
Brooks had to wait until United’s eighth match into the Championship before finally making his debut. If it wasn’t already fully appreciated, a stunning performance in an unforgettable 4-2 win at Sheffield Wednesday a week later made everyone realise just what a gem United possessed.
Yet, health issues aside, he was granted only nine starts in his 21 Championship appearances last season. Often played as a makeshift striker when it is from an attacking midfield position that he is most effective. By comparison, midfield newcomer Lee Evans made 18 starts after joining at the end of January.
NATHAN THOMAS will spend next season on loan to Notts County. The winger has made just three appearances for the Blades since his 2017 move from Hartlepool United. The 23-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Shrewsbury Town.
In fairness, we’re talking about very different players who fulfil different functions. But one can understand Brooks’ frustration. The abiding memory I have of him was not the sublime performance at Hillsborough or the winner he scored at Leeds which fired United to the top of the Championship in late October.
It is of him coming on as a second-half substitute with United trailing 2-0 at Fulham in March after being outplayed by the team that was to win promotion. Brooks’ presence transformed United. Attacking the Londoners from his favoured midfield position, they had no answer. Unfortunately his more experienced teammates didn’t have one either and despite his best efforts United lost 3-0.
I remember vividly Brooks beating his marker with ease then gliding down the right and looking up despairingly, holding his arms out in total frustration. His teammates static, almost bystanders, as he searched in vain to deliver a killer pass that wasn’t on.
If ever there was a Eureka moment when Brooks realised the time had come for a change, that was surely it. How he must have envied the slick passing and movement from Fulham, the best footballing team in the Championship, which sliced through the Blades that night and destroyed them at will.
Wilder, of course, had his reasons for starting Brooks sparingly. For one he could hardly be expected to build a team around a player who wasn’t likely to be there for much longer.
The complex demands of lifting a hardworking but limited squad to within six points of the play-offs being another. Sometimes there has to be sacrifice for the greater good and there is no disputing the remarkable job the manager has continued to do under trying circumstances.
But the record shows that United are not maximising potential when it’s still at their disposal.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, sold to Everton two summers ago for a laughable £1m, made only 12 first team appearances in total for United. And this was when they were still in League One. The Sheffield-born striker, now 21, has since played 43 Premier League matches for the Toffees as well as five Europa League appearances and often kept Wayne Rooney on the bench.
Kyle Walker made only two Championship appearances before Tottenham swooped and then loaned him back for a season. In 2009-10 he was suddenly on the team sheet 26 times.
Admittedly Kyle Naughton, who also joined Tottenham in a joint £9m deal, had kept Walker out of the side. But with the pace he possesses and deployed so effectively during his loan spell, and for Spurs, Premier League champions Manchester City and England, a little blue sky thinking could surely have accommodated him as a winger/wing-back.
Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who has represented England at under-19, under-18 and under-20 levels, played in the senior side twice before being sold to Bournemouth for a reported £1m. What must 21-year-old keeper Jake Eastwood, two starts, three competitive appearances, be thinking. He has rarely put a foot wrong even under the scrutiny of having to prove himself when called upon. But nevertheless still remains third choice.
United take great pride in their Academy and so they should. Two of its products, Walker and Harry Maguire, first choice defenders for England at the World Cup in Russia, bear witness to that.
Quality players will always move on to greater things. That is how the system works whoever you are. But in the meantime to feel the benefit other than fiscal, United maybe need to be a little braver and put their trust in where the money is.