The former Brentford centre-half arrived at Bramall Lane after agreeing a three year contract with Chris Wilder’s side last week.
Speaking after Saturday’s pre-season friendly against Stocksbridge Park Steels, O’Connell explained how a meeting with United’s new manager convinced him to move north despite receiving more lucrative offers elsewhere.
“I’m not being big-headed but I could have stayed in the Championship,” O’Connell said. “There were teams who wanted me up there and, I suppose, some players might have just stayed in the same division. But, for me, the challenge of helping Sheffield United get into the Championship was just too good to turn down.”
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O’Connell, aged 22, is regarded as one of the most promising young defenders in the Football League and enhanced his reputation during successful spells on loan with York City, Rochdale and United’s neighbours Rotherham.
“Sheffield United is hard to turn down,” O’Connell added. “It’s a huge club. I got shown around the place by the manager and I was just taken aback by it. It should be in the Championship, no doubt about it, and so we’ve got to all make sure that it gets back there.”
O’Connell started his career with Blackburn Rovers before being lured to Griffin Park by Dean Smith’s predecessor Mark Warburton. At Spotland, he was awarded the captaincy by manager Keith Hill and helped Rochdale win automatic promotion from League Two in 2014 before returning to Lancashire 12 months later.
Wilder cited O’Connell’s “leadership qualities” as a major factor behind United’s decision to acquire his services for an undisclosed six figure sum.
“I’m not saying I’ll eventually be captain here because there are some massive characters in the dressing room,” O’Connell said. “But I can still contribute. You don’t have to be loud to be a captain. Everyone should be a captain in their own way.”