John Egan backs Sheffield United to remain focused throughout coronavirus crisis

“Confused, totally and utterly confused,” is how one senior figure at Bramall Lane described it. “We’re in new territory and, being totally honest, everyone is in the dark.”

Sunday, 15th March 2020, 1:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th March 2020, 1:17 pm

Sheffield United’s players must try and shine a light through the chaos. Ensure that when English football escapes the shadow of coronavirus, they are ready and prepared for action. No matter what the circumstances.

John Egan, a member of the squad which stands seventh in the Premier League table only a season after achieving promotion, has been watching, wondering and ruminating about the crisis like everybody else. Will the campaign finish? If so, then how long before it restarts? And, worse case scenario, might United’s European and FA Cup dreams be shattered if an abandonment is announced?

For the time being, at least until the ruling bodies decide whether to extend the postponement they imposed on Friday morning or allow the country’s top four divisions to crank back into life, United’s players and coaching staff find themselves in a state of suspended animation.

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John Egan (L), Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham applaud Sheffield United's fans: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Training will continue. Those under Chris Wilder’s command must still prepare mentally for games. The only trouble is, as the authorities try and prevent the disease spreading like wildfire, no one can be absolutely sure when they are going to happen. And if supporters will be allowed to attend.

The idea of competing behind closed doors is something Egan and his colleagues have been forced to consider ever since it became apparent the looming health crisis would, as Wilder warned last week, have “inevitable” consequences for sport. It is not something either the centre-half or any of his colleagues would particularly welcome. So, for the time being, they are carrying on with business as usual. Or as usual as possible.

“I haven’t discussed it or really thought about it, to be honest,” Egan said. “Obviously we’ve seen a couple of games recently where it happened and it does look a bit weird to be honest. But we haven’t talked about it and are just trying to prepare as usual.”

To some extent, Egan and his team mates are required to keep up the pretence that things are continuing as normal. To do otherwise, with United only five points outside the Champions League places and potentially only 90 minutes away from a Wembley semi-final, would threaten the remarkable progress they have made this term. Clearly, however, things aren’t with the decision to place the remainder of the campaign on hold until next month at the earliest leading clubs into unchartered territory. Both in a footballing and, given the financial implications for everyone involved, legal sense.

With the government seemingly set to ban mass gatherings, but the PL and the EFL placing the fixture programme on ice before the instruction came from Downing Street, competing inside empty stadiums, when contagion levels drop, could provide the easiest route out of the litigation maze.

For a club like United, powered by the relationship between the team and the terraces, doing so would remove a powerful weapon from its armoury.

Speaking before Saturday’s trip to Newcastle was called-off, Egan insisted the personality of the group Wilder has assembled during his first four years at the helm means it will confront whatever hurdles are placed in its way head on.

“We’ve got a really strong dressing room, there’s a lot of men in there, and I don’t think trying to get us up for anything will be a problem. That’s not the way the lads are here. That’s not the way the boys here are made. Everyone is really determined and full on.

We can play a game in our car park and we’d be just as revved-up as if it was at Old Trafford or Anfield.”

Egan was asked about the issues which could be raised by the crisis, including the prospect of playing behind closed doors, before the PL placed the season on ice and United became the latest member club to lock the doors of its training facility.

“It would be like a reserve team game I suppose,” he said. “Yes, for the home team it would probably be a disadvantage because you don’t have the home crowd behind you, cheering you through games.

“But then, when the action starts, you just have to get your head down, get on with it and carry on. When there’s three points at stake, you block everything else out and just try to focus on doing your job and getting those. That’s the mindset you’ve got to have if you want to achieve things and that’s what we’ve shown in the past.”

“We’re ready to do whatever it takes,” Egan added. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for business and ready to go out there to try and win games.”

Whenever, as a raft of new measures are discussed in the fight against the disease are considered, they get the chance.