Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United Column: Why suggestions Chris Wilder's Blades are ‘overachieving’ could be disrespectful as they push for Premier League
Wage figures prove it beyond doubt. Sheffield United are over-achieving, punching above their weight in the Championship. A huge compliment. Or is it, in some respects, actually a put-down?
It’s clearly meant as the former but you can see why it can be taken as the latter. I’d imagine there are times when it’s viewed that way in the Bramall Lane dressing room.
Just because players don’t cost a lot of money doesn’t mean they can’t be, or become, as good as those who do.
Online readers are seeing this in advance of Middlesbrough’s midweek visit whereas, for deadline reasons, it appears in the Sheffield Telegraph afterwards. But one match isn’t going to change the main point.
There is a conflict in the way we judge the Blades, much as it can’t be anything but favourable. For instance, does “playing out of your skin” mean you are flattering to deceive?
Let’s look at it another way. When a team or players are branded as “under-achieving” there is an underlying consolation; recognition that they are better than currently showing.
Reverse this and you could make an argument that Sheffield United, and individuals within, are not as good as their league position would suggest.
See what I mean? The confusion? Let’s try to clear it.
A team achieving more than the apparent sum of its parts is down to many good things in the game - togetherness, professionalism and excellent management.
Chris Wilder’s part at the centre of this cannot be overstated. The man is simply brilliant at his job. He has spent minimally, with a top outlay of £4m on John Egan.
But there comes a time when the players, individually, deserve more recognition than they are perhaps accorded.
Over-achievers all? Well, you can be that for a spell but not for the length of time United have been on an upward curve - from League One promotion, to Championship play-off contenders and this season’s push for the Premier League.
Most of the team has started throughout the campaign. Is it possible for anyone to play “out of his skin” for that long?
Take Enda Stevens; certainly who could be termed an unsung member of the side and yet one of the most effective and deserving of praise.
It so happens that the Irishman arrived on a free transfer two summers ago - after leaving Portsmouth, where he was a lower league regular, in the wake of various loaning out from Aston Villa.
But there is something beyond his six caps for the Republic that marks Stevens out as a footballer misjudged. Genuinely underrated.
In the left wing back role, he’s strong, sturdy, consistent, positive, always driving forward. Two left-side signings, Nathan Thomas and Marvin Johnson, haven’t come close to disturbing him.
Stevens is one of a number of Wilder players without a designer label but of genuine value.
They have also set their own standards. To suggest they are over-performing tends to undervalue them.
And just think how promotion would alter that perception.