He featured only twice before dislocating his shoulder in a freak training-ground accident, but Sheffield United’s historic title-winning season will always have a special place in the heart of Joe Riley.
The highly-rated 20-year-old missed out on playing a significant part in the promotion run-in after the injury, which he picked up after collided with a fence at full speed.
But rehab has gone well, and Riley remains in contact with some of his former Blades teammates - he even tweeted ‘We’re going up’ after promotion had been confirmed.
“Obviously, with the season I had last year, I was feeling positive and good,” Riley said.
“It was nice to get on loan as I wanted to experience men’s football by playing the best I could in league football. It would have been good obviously as the lads and staff were quality at Sheffield United.
“I definitely appreciated the size of the club. I said that from the first moment as it was one of the main reasons that made me want to go there. They have a massive fanbase, they’re a big club and it was good to get down there.
“Going from Manchester United to Sheffield United there is a big difference in the stature of the clubs but Sheffield United are a big club and the fans are so passionate about the team. It was good to go somewhere where I can bring things from this club to that club as it was exactly the same in some respects.
“I enjoyed my time there.
“I spoke to Nicky Butt quite a few times and discussed which club was for me as I had a few clubs interested. He recommended Sheffield United and, apart from the injury, it turned out it would have been a good move with them getting promotion and winning the league.
“The lads and staff were quality and it was great to work with such a good bunch of people.
“Of course, it was a confidence booster knowing clubs are interested in you and might want you to go there. You’ve got to do what you feel is right at the end of the day and choose, with help and listening to different people, which club is most beneficial to you. I think Sheffield United was a good choice until the injury
“Before I went out on loan, I was enjoying my time playing. I was feeling positive, feeling strong and flying, in my opinion, as I was enjoying it. So that’s the reason why I felt it was the right time to get out on loan. A freak accident has held me back a bit but I guess you have these in life. It’s better to get them out of the way early and learn a lot from it an early age by getting up and ready for next season.”
Riley was praised by Wilder for his loyalty soon after joining United, after revealing a couple of Championship clubs had tried to hijack the loan deal at the eleventh hour.
“I think I’ve dealt quite well with the injury and have definitely learned the positive side of realising that, in football, there are so many things that can knock you back and they will happen at some point during your career,” he added.
“It makes you realise, when you’re not playing, how much you want to be on the field and you’ll do everything you can to get back as fast as you can. Obviously, you’ll do it properly so it does not happen again so you do the rehab carefully but I want to make sure I’m flying for next season.
“I’m just so positive to be honest, I’ve surprised myself actually how positive I am about the situation. I am just raring to go. I know for a fact I am just so determined to get back to where I was, I know I’ll be flying and, in my opinion, be better than I was. I am raring to go for when I get the opportunity again.”
United completed the signing of former Portsmouth left-back Enda Stevens earlier this week, to compete with Daniel Lafferty for the left-back spot.
Wilder remains a fan of Riley and admits he could make another loan move for him, with the Championship in mind.
“Of course, what happens is up to Manchester United and Joe himself,” Wilder added.
“But it’s great to see people like Joe and Harry Chapman staying in contact with the lads. It shows the type of spirit the boys have created here behind the scenes.”