Find an ex footballer and hear a familiar lament. Fewer characters in dressing rooms, not enough leaders on the field.
It’s not just one team they’re talking about but almost any, from the bottom to the very top of the game where some players earning £100,000 plus a week can barely take responsibility for themselves, let alone anyone else.
Now look at Sheffield United. Analyse not just the individual talents but the mentalities within the group. No leaders? There’s almost a dressing room full of them.
Surely the biggest reason of all for the Blades’ upsurge to third in the Championship.
I hadn’t quite realised the depth of this attribute until former player Kevin Gage – who knows a thing or two about character and characters after his time under Dave Bassett – posed a question on Twitter about who should wear the armband if both Billy Sharp (who, as it turned out, made a starting return) and Paul Coutts (suspended) missed the Ipswich game.
The difficulty wasn’t in finding candidates but in being spoiled for choice.
Jack O’Connell? Chris Basham? John Fleck? Jake Wright? All are driving forces beside being accomplished performers. You could add others to that list in terms of their commitment to team above self.
In a sport generally devoid of as many leaders as it once had, it’s all the more important to seek them out and here, as in other aspects, Chris Wilder, Alan Knill and recruitment head Paul Mitchell have performed wonders.
Talisman Wright, who broke an all-time Blades record by going unbeaten in his first 32 league starts, rates it “a definite strength.”
The centre back, playing under Wilder for the third time, told me on Sheffield Live: “You don’t need the armband to be a leader and I think we’ve got a lot. If somebody’s out somebody else can step forward.
“The gaffer’s massive on personalities and team spirit. He’ll speak to a lot of people before bringing somebody in. They might be a good player but if they’re not a good lad they’re not going to fit into that changing room. He doesn’t like bringing people with big egos – he brings in hard-working players who’ve got talent.”
Wright has seen what happens to those who fall short: “First and foremost, it’s the work, giving 100% for everyone every day. If they don’t they get shown the door. I’ve been with him and he’s done that with players. If you don’t stick to our morals and what we’re about then you won’t be at the club for a long time.”
Good to hear that word “morals”, by the way. Can’t remember the last time I heard that coming from a football dressing room.