Alan Biggs: Sheffield United skipper Billy Sharp plays along with '˜fat boy' image and is hungry for more goals
Might work in cricket, as those who know Joe Root and England are convinced it will. In football it's mostly not the 'done thing' to make your star man captain.
So Chris Wilder was seen to be taking a significant gamble when his first big decision as Sheffield United boss was to hand Billy Sharp the armband.
Sharp himself admitted to me a few days ago: “After the start we had I was looking in the mirror thinking ‘shall I give this armband back?’”
He said it with a grin but you suspect only half tongue-in-cheek. While football skippers don’t carry the same burden as their counterparts in cricket, Billy must
certainly have been feeling the pressures of the new role as his beloved Blades sat bottom with one point from four games.
What everyone around the dressing room will tell you from that time is how Wilder, who must have been in some anguish himself, managed to project a calm mood to
his charges and the watching world. Nothing and nobody changed, not his plans or his methods.
And the approach is no different now from the top of the table, albeit that the Blades boss likes to do what he calls “some barking” now and then to keep people on their toes.
Striker Sharp is right up on his, in the form of his life (some statement given a 198 goal career) and enjoying the time of his life. All due in no small measure to that surprise decision to make him captain, queried by some surprised observers at the time but now unquestionably a masterstroke.
Talisman and talismanic are spot on descriptions of Billy’s impact as both player and captain. It was vital the second didn’t undermine the first. In fact, it has visibly improved it.
“I’m enjoying it and thriving on it,” he says.
“I think I’m learning in the duty I have and I feel as though I’m getting stronger with it as well. More effective as a player because I could have a little tantrum and get side-tracked with off the pitch things with fans. I’ve had to curb that a little bit... and I feel it’s helped me... I can stay a lot calmer, concentrate on the team.”
That was never better demonstrated than by his dismissive approach to the “fat little pig” jibe that hit social media via a fan asking a provocative question of Gary Madine in a nightclub ahead of the Bolton game.
Sharp confined his response to scoring both goals in a 2-0 win but insists: “I wasn’t concerned about it, had no problem with it. He (Madine) texted one of the lads I play with on the Monday... as far as I was concerned it was done then.”
Sharp even laughs along with the “fat lad” image, quipping: “I don’t think he said anything people don’t already know!”
Staying in captain mode, he insists he’ll end the season “with a big smile on my face” even if he doesn’t add to his 26 goals, making him the top league scorer in the country, providing United are promoted. And they’re now 11 points clear of third place after winning at Oxford on Tuesday.
But, for Sharp, three personal targets are fuelling that mission – 200 career goals (only two away following five in three games), 30 for the season and even topping top his best ever haul in a season, 32 for Scunthorpe.
Ominously, there’s no pie pun in sight and the smile vanishes when he says flatly: “I’m hungry for more goals now.”