By the Sheffield United manager’s own admission, Bryan was signed with the Championship in mind. But a combination of injuries and suspensions, coupled with the club’s march towards promotion during his first season at Bramall Lane, have seen the 24-year-old thrown in at the deep end in recent months, as United’s coaching staff attempt to plot a course towards safety following a difficult start to the campaign.
Despite making a solid enough start to his top-flight career, featuring against West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur earlier this term, confirmation that Bryan was in the starting eleven for Wednesday night’s visit to Manchester United did not instill much confidence in supporters that Wilder’s men could spring an upset before kick-off. But the defender, who also worked under Manuel Pellegrini at City before Guardiola’s appointment, responded with a tour-de-force display; not only helping to shackle an attack containing Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford but also claiming the first of the two goals United scored as they stunned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Speaking ahead of United’s meeting with Bryan’s former employers today, Wilder said: “To be at Manchester City all of those years, you obviously have to be a talented player. Kean is versatile too, he’s played at centre-half in a three, as a wing-back and also in the middle.
“To be able to play at this level, you have to be able to take instructions on board and make decisions for yourself, because it’s a moving game. The ball doesn’t stand still. You have to be smart and bright and there’s an intelligence, a footballing intelligence, to that.”
Despite failing to make the breakthrough at the Etihad Stadium and spending much of his time there out on loan, Bryan’s role in City’s development squad meant he was exposed to Guardiola’s philosophy before agreeing a three year contract with United. The Catalan’s teachings clearly made an impression on Bryan who was converted from a box-to-box midfielder into a defender during his stay in Manchester, with Wilder also impressed by the youngster’s work ethic.
“He’s worked hard, he’s been unfortunate in terms of injuries,” he said. “We brought him in to play in the Championship, because that’s where our recruitment is at and that’s where we were at the time. I thought it was a smart and thoughtful piece of business.
“There was an opportunity for him, and he’s not the first person to be released by one of the really big clubs and have to come back.
“Like I say, he’s been really unfortunate at times here. The knock he picked up at West Brom, that was basically just the ball being blasted at him. But he’s worked really hard to get himself back and we’re all really pleased, not only for him but with how he’s doing.”