Sheffield United: 'It's an honour to be a Blade' - new boy Ryan Leonard makes an impressive start to life at Bramall Lane

Finally.

Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 4:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 7:35 pm
Ryan Leonard - a Blade at last. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

After around nine months, a number of rejected bids and a huge amount of both patience and perseverance, Southend's captain Ryan Leonard is a Blade.

Sheffield United's pursuit of the 25-year-old threatened at times to become a saga when bid after bid was rejected by Southend chairman Ron Martin, determined to retain his star asset in the hope that he could lead them into the Championship.

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But, with Southend 17th in League One and Leonard out of contract in the summer, his stubborn - and, some will say, admirable - stance has folded.

Perhaps fittingly for one of the longest-running transfers in recent Bramall Lane history, it still wasn't straightforward - even after Southend had confirmed that they had reached an agreement with their South Yorkshire namesakes.

Leonard, keen to complete what his previous club described as his "dream move", arrived in Sheffield on Friday, too late to complete the second part of his medical.

That finally went ahead after the weekend victory over Ipswich in the FA Cup and after personal terms had been agreed, Leonard was in the tunnel of Bramall Lane, shirt aloft, beaming smile. He was, at last, a Blade.

Leonard wasted no time getting stuck in to life in red and white - within ten minutes of his move confirmed, his Twitter profile picture and description both showed he was a proud Blade - and his first meeting with the local Press saw him look forward and back.

"I'm delighted to get it done and can't wait to get started," he said.

"It's going to be an honour to play for this club.

"I can't thank Southend enough for what they've done for me. But I felt the time was right for me to take the step up into a higher league."

He leaves, it seems, with the blessing of the majority of the Southend faithful who have lost their star man, but have been impressed by his attitude this season. After missing out on a move to Bramall Lane in the summer, many players would have sulked or caused disruption behind the scenes, but not Leonard; a player singled out by Martin recently as the 'ultimate pro'.

It's an attitude that has impressed Wilder, too, but this is a player with ability to match; as shown by his goal at Bramall Lane for the Shrimpers in 2015 - a half-volley, in off the post, giving George Long no chance.

Leonard, just 25 years of age, is very much a signing for the here and now, but one that Wilder believes can grow with the Blades - and one, also, that fits perfectly with his successful ethos of signing players on their way up, rather than down.

"It is no secret that we have chased the signature of Ryan for some time," Wilder said.

"We wanted him in the summer but that was not possible so we have been patient, continued to monitor his progress and we are delighted that this has been completed early in this window.

"We want to add quality to our ranks and Ryan fits that criteria. There is quality available, including in League One, and we hope he will prove to be a great acquisition for us."

He won't be the last, Wilder hopes, before Friday's Steel City derby at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

With a sell-out 30,000 crowd expected at Bramall Lane, it's an occasion that'll show Leonard exactly what it means to be a Blade. But crucially, he's already made a good start.