Kevin Gage’s Sheffield United Column: An ode to ‘top player and top man’ Paul Coutts after his time at Blades came to an end

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As the plane from Las Vegas carrying our Bladesmen touches down onto UK soil, it will mark the end of some of the most glorious celebrations we’ve ever had the pleasure to witness as Sheffield United fans.

Whether we witnessed them first-hand and close up in the pubs and clubs of our city or through our phones and PC screens, it’s been an absolute joy to feel so totally connected to these wonderful players, in this amazing team, led by our brilliant manager, and to feel so totally immersed in the very fabric of our football club.

The players have proven themselves on the pitch and they are now Premier League footballers. Off it, they are simply in a different league because as party animals go, you can forget the pub league references from now on… These boys have been Champions League material!

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But as the old saying goes “all good things must come to an end” and from a football point of view, it will definitely now apply to the players who already know that they won’t be a part of the United squad next season.

Some fans have commented that’s it maybe a bit harsh to have released news of the players leaving so quickly after the season’s end, but to quote another well-worn phrase “life goes on” and football careers have to as well.

Amidst all the wild scenes of celebrations, a fair few of the players involved will have known that their time at the club is coming to an end. It’s football. It happens.

There were no real surprises in the list of players leaving to be honest. Gary Madine, Scott Hogan, Marvin Johnson, Kieran Dowell and Dean Henderson all had to go back to their respective clubs anyway, and the list of players transfer-listed contained no shocks either.

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Four players contracts have expired. Dan Lafferty was rock solid in League One, Conor Washington struggled to make an impact, and Martin Cranie did extremely well when called upon. Eeven though his finest moment probably was singing ‘Wonderwall’ on stage in his pants wearing an oversized Mexican hat! Thanks lads, you’ve all contributed.

Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and manager Chris Wilder: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and manager Chris Wilder: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.
Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and manager Chris Wilder: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.

But there’s one name that stuck out like a sore thumb to all of us who’ve had the privilege of watching him in a Blades shirt over the past few seasons, and he will go down in history I believe as one of the finest ball-playing, passing midfielders to play for the club in recent history.

Certainly so in my time up here which stretches to nearly 29 years. It’s high praise, but thoroughly warranted I believe. Step forward and take a deserved bow, Mr Paul Coutts.

I could write at serious length about his technical ability and the way he ‘bossed’ the games for us during that wonderful 18 month period when we went from bottom of League One to the top of the Championship.

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His range of passing, long and short with both feet, the way he glided seemingly effortlessly about the pitch, etc etc… as I say, I could go on for ages! He was instrumental in our League One 100 point title-winning team and the term ’instrumental’ describes him perfectly.

Kevin Gage Column Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column

On the pitch he was the conductor of a whole Blades orchestra of players, as he metaphorically held the football baton and controlled the flow and the tempo of the game. When he played well, the team did too. Simple as that.

And by the way, he played very very well, nearly every game! I had the privilege of playing alongside Gordon Cowans in midfield at Aston Villa and they both possess those same footballing qualities… I can pay him no higher compliment to be honest.

It’s a testament to just how good Oliver Norwood has been for us that Couttsy couldn’t force his way back in the side, but I know if Norwood had picked up an injury, Coutts would have stepped in and it wouldn’t have altered our rhythm one jot.

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And on the subjects of “ifs” and “injuries”… well, thanks to Burton away over a year ago, we’ll never know what might have been. Successive, back-to-back promotions was certainly on the cards.

So thank you Paul Coutts, for being such a simply superb player to watch and for your time as a Blade. On the pitch, you oozed class. Off it, you sometimes oozed Jagerbombs and Corona and I don’t think I’m giving too many secrets away when I say I know that you’re a top lad to boot.

He’ll be a superb signing in the right team, and I look forward to seeing where his career goes because he’s still got plenty of football in him, that’s for sure.

But, as lasting impressions go, you have made a very original one on me as I am simply unable to sing the correct words to Earth Wind and Fire’s classic hit song ‘September’! Every single time I’ve heard it over the past two or three years, I’ve naturally just belted out the alternate Blades version. And, it’s much better anyway!

Never gives the ball away…and never forgotten either.

Top player. Top man.

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