AMID all the hullabaloo which comes with the January transfer window, what Oxford United’s most important signing this month could already have happened under the radar.

Dan Harris’s appointment as head of the club’s academy was made with little fanfare, but if his plans come off it will be an excellent addition.

With a CV which is hard to believe for someone aged only 38, he brings experience accumulated in the Premier League, Champions League and England youth sides.

Harris’s last posting was with Seoul E-Land and after completing his three-year contract there were offers to stay in Asia, but the job at United proved too tempting.

“I’ve got a young family, so that was a factor,” he said.

“I had chances to go elsewhere in Europe and the UK, but this was the role for me.”

A quick talker with plenty to say, it is clear Harris has big plans.

United have spent years repairing the damage done when the youth system was scrapped during their non-league days.

A host of youth team graduates have made the first team, but few have become regulars and it is almost two decades since the crop including Dean Whitehead and Chris Hackett came through.

Harris said: “There are some great things in place at this academy already, but there’s an awful lot where we can do more.

“One of the big challenges we have is that a lot of the best talent in this county leeches out of it and we have the vultures circling from the category one clubs north and south of us.

“We’ve got to make sure that best talent in Oxfordshire as much as possible stays here, because there’s nothing quite like having a home-grown boy made good.”

It is a message most supporters will have heard before, but United’s new academy chief intends to go on the offensive.

“The academy has to be more visible,” he said.

“I don’t mean that in any way to be disrespectful to anyone involved in the academy for the last few years.

“We have to be a viable option for parents who have the option to keep their son here in this county, or go further afield.

“The first thing is they need to know what we’re doing and we’re offering something a bit different.

“The danger of going to one of the big clubs with the bright lights, is you become lost in the system and you become just another statistic.

“The numbers are damning in terms of the number of players who are out of the game by 21.

“We have to make sure the relationships we have within this county are as strong as they can be.

“I’m trying to find as many gatekeepers, missionaries and foot soldiers as I can – that means building relationships with people in local clubs, PE teachers in the schools.

“Who are the people who know Oxfordshire football inside-out?

“We’ve got to start in our own back yard and on top of that – and I try to say this without being bashful – we’re going to start looking a bit further afield and start putting pressure on other teams.

“Rather than sitting here being passive and letting them come in and taking our best talent, we’ll start looking elsewhere.”

The message of aiming high does not just apply to the club, but also to the individual players.

Harris said: “What we need to create is a Champions League mentality.

“If you look at people like Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, they all started at small academies – Bournemouth, Coventry, MK Dons.

“The reality is the mentality has to be a Champions League mentality and I can say that because I’ve seen it.

“I’ve been in the Premier League and the Champions League.

“The reality is if boys aim there and miss it, then they might still play 300 games for Oxford.

“What we’re looking to do is raise the expectation levels to say don’t limit your targets.

“We’re a long way from that at the moment, but that has to be the mentality.

“What I’ve learned over the years is if you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far you go together.

“That’s important and we’ve got to take guys on a journey with us, but there’s no point being sheepish about it.

“I’ve got high expectations for this academy and this club.”