James Shield: Sheffield United should remember Bayern Munich when they speak with Billy Sharp
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Plenty leave the club and never return once they packed away their lederhosen for the very last time.
But others, the ones who know every nook and cranny of the Allianz Arena, are offered positions either in the coaching or administrative departments. People like Uli Hoeness and Oliver Kahn. Franz Beckenbauer too although, thanks to a well-documented off the pitch controversy involving World Cup votes, Der Kaiser’s name is seldom mentioned by executives in that corner of Bavaria anymore.
If Billy Sharp was a legend for Die Roten rather than Sheffield United, his future would already be mapped out. A role, maybe on Thomas Tuchel’s backroom staff, would already have been filled by the 37-year-old. And if a suitable vacancy didn’t exist, then one would have been created. Because the former Chelsea manager’s employers value the importance of tradition. They understand that employing certain individuals, even after they’ve hung up their boots, helps to guarantee the required standards and attitude are always met and demonstrated.
Unfortunately for Sharp, none of his 693 career appearances came in Bayern’s colours. Not that he’ll care. Because if you asked the striker to trade any of the near 400 he has made for United for one in their red jersey he’d say ‘No’. Or probably ‘Nein’. Because as far as he’s concerned, The Blades are a much bigger deal than anyone in Germany. Actually, make that the entire world.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason almost certainly not to do with Paul Heckingbottom, there appears a distinct possibility that Sharp will be allowed to leave Bramall Lane this summer. He doesn’t want to, as a tearful address to supporters during the civic reception called to celebrate United’s promotion from the Championship demonstrated. Instead, and given the sometimes opaque nature of the soon-to-be Premier League club’s finances, one can only assume it’s because of money and the fact there isn’t much to go around.
Let’s get a couple of things straight. Even though he’s a legend, Sharp isn’t bigger than United. Nor, given the physical demands of top-flight competition, can he expect to enjoy many minutes on the pitch next term if it turns out he’s going to stay after all. Instead, even though he keeps himself in trim, Sharp will probably have to make to with some run-outs in the EFL and FA cups. Mind you, we’ve all said that before and then had to admit that we were wrong.
Although he hasn’t confirmed this explicitly, Heckingbottom did recently tell journalists that he wanted to keep “all” of the 11 players whose contracts are scheduled to expire this summer. They include Sharp, whose agreement doesn’t sound as if it contains a clause guaranteeing him an extension.
But United’s hierarchy should still move heaven and earth to retain his services. Offer him a deal - and yes, probably on a reduced salary. But not a package which tries to exploit his love for The Blades or insults his sense of self worth.
Why? Because so long as Sharp is in and around United’s dressing room, no one will be allowed to take the team for a ride. Anyone he suspects of swinging the lead would be dealt with immediately.
And with United’s squad set to undergo huge change in the not so distant future - because so many of their current crop are getting older - you can’t have too many people like that around.
“He polices the dressing room,” one of Sharp’s colleagues told The Star only one month ago. “The gaffer can’t always be in there, so he won’t see or hear everything. But with Billy, because you know he’s United through and through and what this whole place means to him, anyone who doesn’t want to do what’s right for the group as a whole just isn’t going to be allowed to get away with it. He’d root them out and deal with it, pretty much straight away.”
Sharp might want to continue playing on a regular basis. If he does then, okay, it’s probably for the best if he moves on. But it doesn’t take Bernie Gunther to work out that he accepts opportunities are going to become increasingly limited. Otherwise, wiping away the tears on the Town Hall steps, he wouldn’t have publicly insisted that he would gladly stick around for another 50 years. Yes, Billy is driven and like all professional footballers, selfish at times. But he’s definitely not daft.
I mean this with all due respect to the individuals concerned. Genuinely and sincerely. But Sharp is worth more to United, he brings more to the table and is more relevant there, than the technical staff hired by United World - the organisation owner Prince Abdullah uses to oversee his sporting interests which also include Beerschot and sides in France, India and Dubai. He wants to become a coach too. So what better place to start than United’s own academy, where without treading on anyone’s toes he can begin passing on some of the nous he has acquired during nearly two decades at the coal face to the next generation. If it helps United groom another centre-forward capable of scoring 249 league goals then that will pay for his wages alone.
Yes, a tight rein needs to be kept on spending. But keeping Sharp shouldn’t be viewed as an unnecessary luxury. Instead - and this is something United have done too little of over the past few years - it would be an investment in the future.
Bayern Munich would get that. United should too.