A former Sheffield United player once told me: “I never realised quite how good I was until I left.”
The individual, who for the purposes of politeness shall remain nameless, had just experienced a metamorphosis of Kafka-esque proportions. From cart horse to thoroughbred in the space of six short months. The same six months, incidentally, since he had left Bramall Lane.
Such transmutations are not the sole preserve of those who have represented United. Indeed, they highlight one of the most sacrosanct principles of the modern game. That pretty much every member of your own team’s squad would struggle to get a run-out for the Dog ‘n Duck on a Sunday morning. Until they move elsewhere. Then, the likes of Pele, Maradona and Puskas would struggle to lace their boots.
Much of the narrative surrounding United’s season, in contrast to their manager, pretty grim and downbeat. The squad, by Nigel Adkins’ own admission, has not performed to its maximum so far this term although the situation is hardly disastrous. There are steps which can be taken to help everyone get more bang for their buck. Turn United’s stadium into a place where opponents really do fear to tread.
First, no manager since 2011 has stayed long enough to say ‘this is my group.’ The average time spent in United colours, among the present crop of outfield players, is a pitiful 13 months if home-grown youngsters, Neill Collins and Ryan Flynn are excluded from the equation.
United must accept what they are and that mistakes, as many staff members do, have been made. Resist the temptation to paint themselves as a Championship outfit which mysteriously still finds itself languishing in the third tier. Rather a League One club with the infrastructure, expertise and support to compete, with some adjustments, a level above. At least.
Meanwhile, those seemingly intent on rubbishing everything United do, peddling tired clichés and accusing them of “robbing a living” whenever they suffer a bad result, must decide if they want to help solve or become part of the problem. Comment, criticise and chastise. But preferably not, as happened against Fleetwood recently, when United are 3-0 up at home. Because aren’t other clubs, assuming we don’t follow them, usually praised for winning ugly?