Kevin Gage's Blades Column: Why Chris Wilder's Sheffield United has got me dreaming about playing again!
It's the standard question I often get asked when the subject of football comes up in conversation after people find out, or know what I did for a career for nearly 19 years.
Do you miss playing?
The friends who know me really well will also know that my answer to this is always along the lines of “NO! Not at all.
They will vouch that I’m genuinely happy to be watching the action from the side of the pitch rather than be on it and involved in it anymore!
That’s not to diminish how much I enjoyed my time in pro football and how proud I was to represent some super clubs with some amazing people, but it’s more a reflection of the feeling that ‘all good things must come to an end’ and the last couple of years of my career at Hull City at the bottom of League Two were not a period I remember with much fondness!
I was happy to retire when I did, through my choice, having done my time and to move on with my life. So what’s this got to do with the Blades, you ask?
Simply this... Having watched Sheffield United since I finished playing, not once have I ever watched a game and wished I could pull on a red and white shirt again. Not only that, I simply haven’t felt the yearning or ever had any desire to continue to play at any level, not even for a 5-a-side or a ‘kick-about’ with mates. So, no...I don’t “miss it”. I’m enjoying being a non-playing fan!
But, on Saturday against Swindon, about halfway through the second half, my feelings slightly changed.
I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to have played in this current Blades team, as they cut through the Swindon defence in wave after wave of attacks. I thought to myself that I’d have loved the opportunity to play in a Blades team that played such expansive, free-flowing, stylish football, and as my instinct was always to get forward and attack from whatever position I was playing.
I like to think that I’d have had a field day, and be loving life as a Chris Wilder Blade! But I was a Bassett Blade of course, and with the best will in the world during my time playing here, stylish and free-flowing football it certainly wasn’t!
What it was, of course, was effective, and got results. However, it appears Chris Wilder is building an equally effective team in a totally different style to his own days at the Lane as a player under Dave Bassett.
It’s evolving into a style that is so pleasing and so entertaining to watch and is also currently taking this division by the scuff of the neck and getting results. If this current style of play and associated form continues there is only one logical conclusion. It’s promotion.
After the blip versus Walsall, I thought we were absolutely magnificent on Saturday. Swindon came out the traps at full speed and could have taken the lead, but once again the sheer quality of our football and our off-the-ball movement, matched by the intensity of our pressing of the opposition, saw us push them further and further back, until they were hanging on for their lives at the end.
It was as complete a victory as we’ve seen this season, as the 25 shots at goal and an incredible 19 on target will testify. We also ONLY scored four times, as with those ‘shots-on-target’ stats we were actually due about six goals so there’s still some in the tank hopefully!
The midfield trio - described as “the best in the division” - certainly lived up to their billing, with Fleck dominant and getting better every game and Coutts just oozing class and composure alongside him. Then we come to Duffy.
Leaving aside his two well-taken goals, he was simply outstanding and Swindon had no answer to his creativity, his linking up of play, and his energy as he covered just about every blade of grass.
He ghosts into spaces and makes himself available to receive the ball at all times from all angles and just about everywhere on the pitch. It’s as if he has one of those ‘Star Trek’ style teleporter units as he pops up out of seemingly nowhere to get on the ball. A case of “Beam me up Tufty” maybe?!
So if we’re dabbling in science fiction and discussing teleporters, I’ll also keep an eye out for a Dr Who style ‘TARDIS’ to go back in time, collect a younger fitter me and try to get into this Blades team, because I believe this side is on the verge of becoming a special one in SUFC’s history.
The 1990 Blades squad had a get together last season to celebrate the 25th anniversary of promotion. Will this squad be doing the same in years to come? Time will tell of course, but if I do get a TARDIS, I’ll go forward and find out! UTB
Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev