Sheffield United: Why ex-Blade Kevin Gage is so proud of Chris Wilder's men'¦. regardless of Sheffield Derby result against Wednesday
Â Whatever the result tomorrow, no matter how the latest installment of this great sporting rivalry eventually unfolds, Kevin Gage believes manager Chris Wilder and his players can reflect on a job well done.
"The style and the standard of what they're producing is the best I've known since coming here," he says without a moment's hesitation. "Seriously, it makes you even more proud, if indeed that's possible, of this great football club."
Because Gage is not usually prone to sentiment, his words carry weight. Indeed, as he looks forward to Sheffield United's meeting with Sheffield Wednesday, the 54-year-old admits many of the 133 appearances he made for the hosts were not exactly enjoyable experiences. The same, Gage suspects, can not be said of United's present squad after analysing their performances. In fact, he goes as far to suggest their attack-minded tactics would be doomed to failure unless every single member had embraced Wilder's approach.
"You need enthusiasm to go about it in the way they do," Gage continues. "When you see Bash (Chris Basham) and (Jack) O'Connell charging forward, they're doing it because they want to do it. When you see Enda Stevens and Kieron Freeman doing the same thing, to get on a cross at the far post, it's because they want to do it as well. Trust me, managers can work on all that in training but, when the whistle blows, it's not going to happen properly unless the lads had bought into it. Remember, these are centre-halves and wing-backs we're talking about here, making 40 yard dashes, not forwards going on 10 yard runs."
Gage is convinced that enthusiasm is not only responsible for their climb to third in the Championship table - a season-and-a-half after winning League One - but also represents United's most potentÂ weapon entering the meeting with Wednesday.
"You can sense it out there on the pitch, you can see that everyone is one the same page. Obviously it's a serious business but it still helps if you enjoy yourself out there. It's not the only thing that's involved in producing a performance but it certainly makes it easier." Gage arrived at Bramall Lane in 1991 following spells with Wimbledon and Aston Villa.
"Listen, when I came here, I was a reluctant subscriber to the style Harry (then manager Dave Bassett) used at the time," he says, tracing his journey to South Yorkshire. "But I did it because it was effective, it got results, and so came on board that way.
"I loved playing for United, I love them now and they mean everything to me. But, hand on heart, could I say that I loved doing it that way? No. I loved the outcomes it got. I watch these boys now and think that must be a great to be part of. It's bringing the best out of them too. People like Mark Duffy and John Fleck are in the form of their lives."
As well as changing careers, and potentially the outcome of the derby, Gage thinks United's modus operandi is altering perceptions too.
"It's transformed the whole club. For quite a long while, we were known as a 'roll-up your sleeves, Sheffield grit' type of side. All of that. We still dig in, that's there, but so much more as well. The change probably started under Chris' predecessors Danny Wilson and Nigel Clough but it's gone on to another level now."