No inferiority complex, no inhibitions and, most of all, absolutely no fear.
Three qualities Sheffield United must demonstrate to cause Louis van Gaal a nightmare inside the Theatre of Dreams.
“We will be going there to win,” Andy Crosby, speaking ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, insisted. “We’ll be going there to perform and hopefully, on the back of that, going through. We’ll prepare as we always do. You go there with a personal pride to perform and show what you can do individually and collectively. If you can do that, then you have a chance. You can do big things.”
The odds on United beating their namesakes from Manchester this weekend might be longer than Donald Trump becoming the next President of the US but, as their League One rivals Bradford City proved against Chelsea last year, nothing is impossible. Two goals down after 38 minutes and struggling to contain opponents who would later be crowned Premier League champions, Phil Parkinson’s side responded by scoring four goals themselves to cause what many have described as the greatest cup shock of all time. Can United eclipse that achievement and reach the fourth round stage? Crosby, the visitors’ assistant manager, believes they can.
“Enjoy the day, you have to. Don’t let the fear factor or prospect of a hiding inhibit you at all.
“Ask the Bradford players, they beat Chelsea. It happens, at any level of sport and in any discipline, it happens. Yes, it might be rare but results like that do occur. Something might happen in the first minute of the game that changes everybody’s mentality. You just never, ever know. But you have to be ready, make sure you are in a position to make the most of an opportunity, if it does.”
Crosby, the former Doncaster Rovers and Darlington centre-half, has never visited Manchester United as either a coach or a player. But he does possess an insight into the psychological challenges facing Nigel Adkins’ squad as they prepare to confront van Gaal’s international strewn side.
A member of the Scunthorpe teams which faced Chelsea in the same competition 11 years ago before being paired against Manchester City 12 months later, Crosby said: “I went there in 2004. Then we got Chelsea in the third round, got promoted from League Two, had a season in League One, and then got promoted again. Did that game have any part to play? I honestly don’t know but what I do is that it clearly didn’t do any harm.”
“You’ve got to go there and try to win,” Crosby continued. “We gave them a really good game I think. At the very worst, you have got to do yourself justice. Make sure you come off the pitch knowing that you couldn’t have given any more. That my mate alongside me couldn’t have given any more either. Leave nothing out there and have no regrets.”
United manager Nigel Adkins, who worked with Crosby at Glanford Park, insisted after the draw was made that, regardless of the final outcome, his players can reap the benefits of their Old Trafford experience. Crosby, who faced the likes of Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Mateja Kezman at Stamford Bridge, echoed those sentiments, saying: “What are they doing at the top level that is different to the players you come up against every week? Why are they at the top level? Why is someone you watch on television every week so good? Why have they been at the top level for so many years? Are you a good player? If so, then go out there and prove it because there won’t be any excuses about the atmosphere or the pitch. There are so many questions you can ask yourself going into games like this.”
“Dennis Berkamp was the best I ever came up against,” Crosby added. “I know people say how technically good he was but the thing I’ll always remember is how strong he was too. Little things like that make you realise these people are where they are because they’ve got the whole package which is a lesson in itself.”
United, who overcame Oldham Athletic in the previous round, are set to enjoy a near 9,00 strong following at Old Trafford. Peel away the professional veneer and Crosby conceded he is a football supporter at heart too.
“I’ve come up against Manchester United but I’ve never been to Old Trafford either as a player or a spectator. I remember sitting down for the draw and thinking how good it would be to get Manchester United or Manchester City who hadn’t come out of the hat I don’t think. Then, when the draw did come out, my kids were jumping all over the room.”