Baby Blades Grow Up Fast; RELEGATED, BUT YOUTH CUP GLORY COULD HERALD A BRAVE NEW ERA... SPECIAL REPORT
Byline: by LAURIE WHITWELL
THE future of Sheffield United is on a knife-edge. The Blades are in a dire position after a chaotic season of four different managers and 40 players and face life in English football's third tier for the first time since 1988.
Already [pounds sterling]57million in debt, relegation to League One will cost the club [pounds sterling]12m in missing revenue and they are currently without a manager or chief executive.
But amid the turbulence there is hope. Sheffield United's Under 18 side have reached the FA Youth Cup final for the first time in their history and will play the first leg against Manchester United at a close-to-capacity Bramall Lane tonight.
The game is being seen as a chance for fans to find pride in their club after the first team's car crash of a campaign and 28,000 have snapped up tickets.
A huge amount is expected of the teenagers who will line up against the competition's perennial finalists from across the Pennines and the match will test the belief that several should feature in the first team next season.
Five of the side expected to start tasted Championship football this campaign and chairman Kevin McCabe has outlined how they can be the club's saviours by either helping to win League One points or bringing in transfer fees.
'We have a fantastic set of youth players,' said McCabe. 'With good coaching and management, I expect to see many being firstteam players for Sheffield United.' McCabe knows these prospects are in excellent hands. The man behind the remarkable FA Youth Cup run is John Pemberton, the former Crystal Palace, Leeds and Sheffield United defender. Appointed academy director last May, Pemberton has built on the fine work by predecessor Ron Reid and quietly gone about establishing a clear set of principles.
'I looked at the structure of the academy, looked at the players it's produced and put my ideas into it,' Pemberton told Sportsmail ahead of training at Bramall Lane, where the 46-year-old has moved sessions so players can get comfortable with the surroundings. 'The secret behind it? Hard work, discipline, good recruitment.
'We have good players but it's about giving them a greater understanding of the game and making them all technically better on the ball. There's no one embarrassed with the ball at their feet and that's the starting block.
'It's one of the things I wanted to instil into the young players at every age down to Under Sevens. …