Sometimes you get an answer you hear perfectly well first time but just have to ask to be repeated.
“Runners up”: Tony Currie’s matter-of-fact reply to how he thought Sheffield United would fare this season. This was two games into the season - and the ensuing pause from yours truly filled almost the entire gap then and now!
TC has an impish sense of humour underlying a straight face at times. As he did to so many opponents as Sheffield United’s greatest player, he can land you on your backside. But “runners-up” was what he said - and meant. Second place and automatic promotion for the club just up from League One.
Had this come from anyone but Currie, I suspect there would have been some derision in response (even from avid Blades) to his recent appearance on my Sheffield Live TV show.
Instead, there was a kind of well-wishing silence. A former Blades skipper, David Holdsworth, nodded to Currie’s stature and fervour but suggested that to expect even an inspirational manager like Chris Wilder to march his team to back-to-back promotions would be unfair.
Mind you, there’s a difference between expecting and tipping. Applying pressure certainly wasn’t Tony’s intention; clearly he didn’t think it hampered a manager and team who have set no limits for themselves despite their considerable distance from at least half and more of the division in budget and spending.
And we speak now with United third in the table, so you could hardly rule out a repeat of the double jump completed by Dave Bassett’s boys back in 1990 and, more relevantly, by clubs of similar size, Norwich and Southampton, in recent years. I’d still hesitate to go as far as TC but I can well see why he made such a statement, based on instinct and the potentially unstoppable sense of momentum surging through the club.
Currie could have confined his comments to the hospitality lounges at Bramall Lane where he links up with another ex Blades, Kevin Gage, of the Bassett era. But he chose to repeat this exchange: “The host of my room, Kevin, said ‘where do you think we’ll finish?’ and I said ‘runners-up.’”
Cue that pause, a little smile and a nod of verification, based on the way he forecast the 17 match unbeaten run to last season’s League One title. “I said ‘we’re not going to get beat for the rest of the season’ and we didn’t.
“You’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to aim for the top six. I’m blimin’ sure they are – and they’re good enough as well. I want to be optimistic. Just put a run together and we’re in with a shout.”
Under Wilder, United have come a long way on relatively little. Fees expended since last season tally not much more than £3m. January and the next window could be huge.
If the Blades are in contention, the board must surely up the ante.
There are signs they will with Prince Abdullah, a significant early investor with a rekindled appetite, now commanding increased representation on the board in place of the sons of joint team owner, but still overall club chief, Kevin McCabe.
Here’s the managerial record they would be backing. Played 61 Won 38 Drawn 11 Lost 12. That is frankly ridiculous. In Chris Wilder you simply have to trust.