Leon Clarke hopes Sheffield United manage to sign Ethan Ebanks-Landell this summer.
Because, if the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender is to be believed, his sanity could depend upon it.
“I honestly don’t know if he’ll be able to cope without me,” Ebanks-Landell laughs. “Because I do everything for him. Seriously, he’ll be on sandwiches all the time when I’m not there. He only eats a decent meal when I’m around.”
Whatever the veracity of Ebanks-Landell’s claim - and Clarke, his close friend, colleague and former flat mate insists it is well wide of the mark - the 24-year-old’s contribution to United’s achievements last season are beyond doubt. Signed on loan during the opening stages of the campaign, Chris Wilder’s side were languishing at the wrong end of the table when he arrived from Molineux.
Thirty-four appearances, 23 wins and eight months later, they finished the campaign having accumulated 100 points and, 14 ahead of Bolton Wanderers in second, as League One champions. Little wonder Wilder, who has already recruited Ched Evans, Enda Stevens and Nathan Thomas, remains keen on bringing Ebanks-Landell back on a permanent basis.
“Joking aside, it’s been good being with Leon,” the centre-half says. “We get on great and it really helped me to settle in. To be fair, not just that though. The rest of the lads have been brilliant with me, ever since the first time I stepped through the door. And that meant a lot.
They always got behind us, even when things didn’t go our way, and that makes a big difference; knowing they are behind you, so long as the effort and desire is there, no matter whatEthan Ebanks-Landell
“It’s a really friendly club, tight-knit, where everyone mucks in and gets along. That makes the good times even better and helps you get through the bad ones.”
Clarke, whose acquaintanceship with Ebanks-Landell traces back to their time together at Wolves, knows that better than most.
After seeing a persistent ankle injury overshadow the early stages of his career at Bramall Lane, the centre-half scored six goals in as many outings having regained his fitness as United powered across the line. Clarke, who also represented the likes of Bury, Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers before moving to South Yorkshire last summer, attributes their results to camaraderie behind the scenes.
“The celebrations at the end tell you all you need to know about this club and what the manager has been able to create. The spirit among the group is something else, we all fight for each other out there on the pitch and we muck-in off it too. I think the fans can see that and they’ve bought into it as well. They’ve got behind us all the way through the season.”
“We’ve had a few nights out during the season,” Ebanks-Landell, echoing those sentiments, interjects. “They’re pretty regular when the time allows. The biggest rule is that everybody comes along, no excuses are allowed.
“Okay, there might have been a few times when someone hasn’t been able to come along for one reason or another. But it’s always been a good reason. And that really helped build a strong bond.”
“The fans have been great too,” he adds. “A huge part of what happened. They always got behind us, even when things didn’t go our way, and that makes a big difference; knowing they are behind you, so long as the effort and desire is there, no matter what.”
Wilder’s decision to stick by Clarke, particularly when many supporters began to suspect he was a busted flush, not only earned the player’s loyalty but, as United prepare for Championship football, means he is confident the club can continue to progress.
“Who knows what might happen? Nothing comes easy but this is football and you can’t rule anything out,” Clarke says. “In a way, it was a shame the season just couldn’t carry on because of the momentum. But we’ll come back, work hard and look to carry that on.
“There might have been a few people not to happy about me being there, or who didn’t think I was the right type of player, I don’t know. But hopefully I’ve shown them that I give my all and what I can do.
“There’s always stuff being said but the supporters have been great to me. That means a lot. I’m totally committed to this football club and want to help keep driving it on.
“We achieved what we wanted to last time out and, of we didn’t have the right attitude, that wouldn’t have been possible. But the manager and his staff always drive us on and that’s the right thing to do. We don’t want to be satisfied with just this. We want to keep on achieving and for this to be the start, not the end, of something.”
Although a three year contract means Clarke’s future is secure, Ebanks-Landell is waiting to discover of he has one at Molineux. Paul Lambert, Wilder’s counterpart in the Black Country, handed him a new long-term deal towards the end of last year but, amid reports of a rift with owners Fosun, the Scot could soon be searching for alternative employment.
Wilder will monitor events closely before deciding whether or not to exploit the uncertainty by making an offer for Ebanks-Landell.
“He keeps saying I won’t survive if he’s not there,” Clarke says. “Are you being serious? I don’t know where he gets that from. He keeps telling you guys about his cooking well, trust me, it’s the other way around.”