Alan Biggs: Maturity at the Sharp end for Billy and Sheffield United
It's never too late to learn. And you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Read on, we'll try to get a bit more original, I promise!
Take not an old dog but an older one in Billy Sharp. Fair to say he’s not the sort you’d want to enter in a show when it comes complying with a tug of the lead in the direction of the touchline.
Football managers tend to be a bit ambivalent on this one. In one scenario, they don’t like any player to be happy to be brought off.
In the other, they don’t want to see any outward shows of dissent challenging their authority. Some shrug it off, in public at least, others don’t.
It’s also reasonable to say the captain of Sheffield United has stomped off a fair few football pitches in his time - by his own admission. Where he is also candidly honest is that, now he has the extra responsibility, he has to rein himself in a little, so to speak.
This column has already broached the issue of Chris Wilder knowing, when he made the talismanic 30-year-old striker his skipper, that there might be times when he’d have to substitute or even drop him. It goes with the territory of being a striker at any club, such is the competition managers desire in that position.
Just as naturally, players like Sharp want to be out there. His boss, and the club’s fans, wouldn’t want it any other way. But one incident this season – Billy’s apparent angry reaction to being substituted in the late-September 1-0 home win over Bristol Rovers – focused on how important appearances can be on this issue.
Sharp himself explains: “The gaffer pulled me about that actually. He thought I was having a moan up about getting brought off but actually I was moaning at Doney (Matt Done) because I thought he should have played me in just before. But nobody likes coming off. It’s a team game and I’ve learnt as I’ve got older, more mature, that it’s not just about the eleven; it’s about the squad.
“If I throw my arms in the air, like I did do last season and like I have the whole of my career, then it’s not looking good from the point of view of your fans and your team-mates. It’s not setting a good example. I’m sure I will have my little slip-ups but the gaffer’s there to nail us back down.
“Striker is a position where the manager can look to change – and this is where I said to people I’d look to change as well. I did get frustrated last season when I got brought off and got dropped. But I’ve got to make sure I keep my focus and keep playing well. I’m just happy the gaffer’s given me an opportunity to be captain and I’ve got to keep my place.”
That decision is looking inspired, as is Sharp’s form in racing to 10 goals for the season in a team now unbeaten in eleven. Underpinning that is Wilder’s “no Billy big times” philosophy.
And nobody is taking more of a lead in that – quite literally – than the talismanic skipper.