Kevin Gage Column: My advice to Jack O'Connell... stay at Sheffield United or you might make a grown man cry!

Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column
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If he leaves, I might actually cry...

No, not Chris Wilder, though I wouldn’t be too chuffed about it, believe me. Not even John Fleck either, even though losing our best player and our twice ‘Player of the Season’ winner would be hard to take, to be honest.

No, there’s one other player that will reduce me to a tear or two if he leaves in the near future, though it’ll probably because I’ll punch a wall or something in frustration!

On Monday news filtered through that we’d turned down a £5m bid for Jack O’Connell, and in an instant, the bit of my heart reserved for the Blades, sank.

On Tuesday, Brighton upped their bid to an apparent £8m. My heart this time skipped a beat. Where’s this gonna end, I thought, and as I write this I still wonder. I just hope it’s not in him leaving yet, and it ends in tears. My tears, obviously!

Because it was all going so well. The new season loomed on Saturday and as Chris Wilder's Bladesmen had put the finishing touches (and players) to their excellent pre-season, all us fans were entitled to be hugely excited and eagerly awaiting the Bramall Lane kick-off against Swansea in a few days.

Jack O'Connell

Jack O'Connell

We’d already secured the services of an outstanding young goalkeeper from Manchester United, re-signed our own very good one in Simon Moore, broke our transfer record with the £4m capture of the highly rated John Egan, and then all-but signed Ben Woodburn, one of the most exciting, promising and sought after young players in the country after Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp personally advised him that his future football career would be enhanced by a loan season with Sheffield United! What a compliment about our club that was by the way! Bring the new season on!

All that anticipation still remains of course, but the potential loss of our man with the magic hat and such an iconic, huge player (in all senses of the word) from our team a few days before the season starts would cast a big cloud over Bramall Lane, and be a real body-blow to the thousands of fans who’ve grown to love the man who has invented himself a new role in football as the world’s first overlapping centre half. I wrote the following about him last year after we’d beat Millwall in League One:

...but the real accolades should go to another man for a passage of play down the left hand side that created the chance and quite honestly had to be seen to be believed. He won the ball in his own half, then somehow kept it in play whilst muscling his own team mate out of the way, before embarking on a rampaging run down the left wing. A quick exchange of passes and Freeman applied the finishing touch. I use the word ‘man’ but that short simple word doesn’t do this fella justice. He turned into Superman on Tuesday night as he elevated his performance to a whole new level, and he’d already been excellent this season! On Tuesday night a new Blades superstar was born. Step forward and ‘Happy Birthday’ Jack O’Connell.

His display was simply awesome. It was one of the most complete performances from a defender that I can remember seeing from anyone in a Blades shirt. Except he isn’t even just a defender. He’s very comfortable in possession, has the speed and athleticism of a wing-back as he overlaps down the flank, and combines this with wonderful left foot delivery of passing, both short and long.

Jack O'Connell

Jack O'Connell

He usually sets the tone for the team with his crunching tackles and he wins headers for fun. Oh, and he scores goals as well! He is some player, believe me. He’s also only 23 years old by the way... he’ll get even better! Perhaps it was also subconsciously stored away in his mind that the return Millwall fixture was targeted to exorcise a few personal demons.

Sheffield United’s shaky start to the season didn’t help any newcomers, and Jack probably suffered more than most in the first few weeks. It’s therefore also a measure of the man that he so quickly recovered and has been such a consistently good performer at the heart of our team. In fact, he is the heart, and his heart-pumping, whole-hearted and fully committed displays epitomizes everything good that this current Blades side stands for.

So that happened in League One. Last season he played every minute of every match, evolved his game to even higher levels, hardly put a foot wrong and was my choice for Player of the Season. Its perhaps not surprizing that Premier League teams have been sniffing around.

An English centre-back, not even at his peak yet, accomplished on the ball, hard as nails, never seemingly injured or suspended, a leader, with a tremendous attitude and no trouble on or off the pitch. Remind you of a certain ex-Blade at all? Harry Maguire is valued at £60m apparently these days and is a national hero and a football superstar. They have different styles of play, but the similarities are striking. Can Jack do a Harry? Don’t rule it out.

But not yet. Please…not yet. Football fame and financial fortune will surely come for Jack O’Connell, but I believe he’s much better than Brighton & Hove Albion, and in the current crazy market also worth much more than the £8m they’ve bid.

The Brighton bid may be the catalyst for other, bigger clubs to make their move, and I suppose every player has a price, but for now let’s hope that whatever Chris Wilder and the Board deem that price is, it’s one other clubs feel is too high. They’re wrong of course, as he’s worth every penny, but don’t bloody tell ‘em!

So don’t hit the road Jack. Stay….for just a little bit longer.

It’s for the best. After all, you wouldn’t want to see a grown man cry now would you?

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield. @ManorHouse_S18. Follow him on twitter: @gageykev