Unsworth trusted with Preston's future
Preston North End is a football club with a big problem.
They may lie a healthy fifth in the Championship table, have an excellent and highly-coveted manager in Alan Irvine and a well-drilled and committed squad.
But they came a disappointing 19th out of 24 clubs in terms of attendances last season and crowds have slipped worryingly this campaign, with less than 12,000 turning up for their recent home fixture against high-flying West Brom.
It isn't easy for any side in Lancashire to build their fanbase. Preston aren't just competing with Blackpool, Blackburn, Burnley, Bolton and Wigan for supporters, they also exist in the considerable shadows cast by Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton.
Deepdale is a very respectable all-seater stadium with a capacity in excess of 20,000 but the ocean of empty seats every home game is a major part of the reason why North End have to balance the books by selling their most bankable player just about every summer.
And here is the rub - Preston might have reached the play-offs four times since they won promotion to the Championship in 2000 but they have done it almost exclusively without home-grown talent.
Over the last decade central midfielder McKenna, born in nearby Chorley, is the only outfield player to really make the grade at Deepdale. All of the other players listed above were bought in and sold for a profit.
If Preston want to continue to succeed in these recessionary times they need the extremely wealthy Trevor Hemmings, who has a 28% stake in the club, to seriously open his chequebook or start producing their own players.
However, the credit crunch has hit Hemmings hard and, besides, if the lifelong fan was to bankroll a spending spree he would have done so by now.
Unsworth was a popular figure during two spells at Everton
Instead, North End have turned to David Unsworth.
The 35-year-old is best known for his two spells at Everton, with whom he won the FA Cup in 1995, but he started out as a 13-year-old junior at Preston. The defender's career took him to nine clubs before he retired towards the end of last season.
He has recently taken his first coaching role - and I think it is a position of vital importance to Preston's future.
"I am the bridge between the youth and the first team and I am really enjoying it," said Unsworth, who like McKenna hails from nearby Chorley.
In his charge are five first-and-second-year professionals who have outgrown the youth team but are not ready for the step up to the first team.
"These type of lads have previously been a little bit lost in terms of who they train with and have had nobody specifically looking after them; their needs and wants," added Unsworth.
"My role is to give these young pros every opportunity to make the biggest step in football - from the reserve to first-team level."
Manager Irvine himself is in his first managerial role. His previous roles have included stints as Academy director at both Blackburn and Newcastle. It must be frustrating for him that his current club are not producing their own talent, but his experience must also have helped him to identify the weak link in the chain.
But what exactly can Unsworth do to help his charges make the transition?
"Football is a quick, powerful game and some might have the ability but not the strength. We get them in the gym in the afternoon and are working on individual weights and stretching programmes," added Unsworth.
"We are spending hours on the training ground helping the players understand their specific positions, making sure they are tactically aware."
Unsworth has started taping reserve games and training sessions. He is then able to analyse them and work with players on their strengths and weaknesses.
"It is similar to first-team training in terms of thoroughness," he added.
Unsworth currently has two central defenders, a left-back, a central midfielder and a right winger. They have been bombarding Unsworth with questions, soaking up information "like sponges".
Part of the problem is the amount of football available to the young professionals. The main outlet for them is the reserves, with the remaining numbers made up of youth team players and the occasional first teamer. But Preston play in the Central League West - and that is just an 18-game season.
"They need to play matches - at least one a week," said Unsworth.
"There are not as many reserve games as we would like and so the manager wants me to organise more high-profile friendlies so the players can test themselves against the bigger clubs."
Unsworth is still relatively new to his job but believes he has seen enough from his young professionals to believe that they have a chance of making it.
McKenna made more than 400 appearances for North End
He is understandably loath to put a timeframe on when Preston fans can expect to see home-grown players make the breakthrough, nor how often it is likely to happen.
And he is adamant that ultimately a lot depends on the player himself.
"I am trying to give all these lads the tools," said the 35-year-old.
"But they also need to have the drive and desire - and that is something that a coach cannot give to them."
A few players have come close to making the grade at Deepdale in recent years - the likes of Kevin Langmead, Darren Kempson and Alan McCormack - and gone on to enjoy careers at lower divisions clubs.
But since local lad McKenna made his debut for Preston in February 1997 the only player to establish himself in the first team is goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
McKenna himself went on to skipper the club and made more than 400 appearances for North End before he was bought by Nottingham Forest for £750,000 in the summer.
It might be unrealistic to ask Unsworth to produce another player who gave the club such excellent and successful service but I'm sure that a few more Preston fans might pass through the turnstile if they had the chance to see one of their own wearing the famous white shirt.