Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Blades shaping up rather well ahead of Premier League return, why Ravel Morrison can be a star... and why I'm so happy to see Oli McBurnie in red and white
So, the wait is nearly over.
Not just the last twelve years, but the last few months have dragged - ever since Jack O’Connell powered home that header in front of the Kop against Ipswich, we’ve been looking forward to this Saturday.
But the longest close-season in living memory is finally coming to an end and we are waiting to step into the new footballing experience that is the Premier League. We’ve been here before, of course, though younger fans wont remember much about it as 2006/07 is a long time ago!
You have to go back even further to August 1992, when Sheffield United were one of the original members of the newly named top-flight division and, as all Blades know, we scored the first-ever Premier League goal when Brian Deane powered in that header.
I’m still immensely proud of playing in that game and was actually only about 10 yards away, on the edge of the penalty area, as the original ‘Deano’ headed home! I wish I’d veered away to my right celebrating, as opposed to veering away left, as I’d have jumped on him and been a part of that goal-clip celebration for all eternity!
Since those early seasons, the incredible success and globalisation of the Premier League is well documented, but all the surrounding hyperbole has been quite remarkable. I genuinely don’t remember anything like this when we were last members of it, and certainly not when I was a player all those years ago.
Perhaps it’s the money involved? Or maybe that last line should read, perhaps it’s the money at stake in the future? Perhaps it’s the saturation coverage on TV and other media?
Whatever the reasons, and speaking as a Blade, it’s damned good to be a part of it and, even with a fairly low-key start away to Bournemouth, we will all get caught up in the football information feeding frenzy that will follow!
However, casting aside and, if possible, ignoring all the off-pitch distractions, the management team, coaching staff and players have been going through the normality of a regular pre-season with various warm-up games against some of our local teams, and a couple of international fixtures thrown in for good measure.
From what I can gather, together with the little I’ve seen (Chesterfield away), we appear to be shaping up rather well. I can’t begin to explain how happy I was to see Oli McBurnie sign, albeit for an absolute fortune in terms of transfer fee!
He’s stood out every single time I’ve seen him play, tearing us apart at Barnsley a couple of seasons ago, and then doing the same last season in a Swansea team. I believe he’s going to become the next Blades superstar and develop into our talisman, leading the line as a proper centre-forward should do.
Expect goals, dribbles, link-up play, headers… the whole package. Add to the fact that he has an ‘individual’ look (to put it kindly!) and you’ll understand why I think he’ll be such a hit with us Blades.
And we haven’t even started on his potential strike partner up-front! Callum Robinson already looks sheer class. Again, another potential Blades superstar in the making and ready to take this division by storm with his pace, goals and technical ability as we’ve already seen glimpses of in recent matches.
And talking of potential, there’s another two players that could well get Blades fans off their seats with excitement next season and could easily become key players in our Premier League team. Step forward Lys Mousset and Ravel Morrison.
One is unknown quantity to most supporters and comes with no baggage whatsoever save for a bit of hand-luggage, whilst the other has been around a bit, crammed a lot into his relatively short career so far, and is laden (maybe a bit unfairly) with way too much baggage and probably miles over the permitted allowance!
If ever a player needed proper man-management at a key moment in his career, then Ravel Morrison needs Chris Wilder and he needs him now. It could be a match made in Premier League heaven. I really REALLY do hope so, because on his day, Ravel is utterly superb. I hope he has many MANY ‘days’ as a Blade to come. I have a sneaky feeling he will.
So, yeah I’ve missed a couple strikers out haven’t I? It gives us an idea of our strength in depth when the two strikers not mentioned yet are our captain, club legend and top goal-scorer from two of the past three seasons, plus his side-kick up-front last season who also happened to win the player of the year award! It’s an embarrassment of riches! How do we fit six players into two, maybe three attacking/creative slots? Answers on a postcard please. Addressed to Chris Wilder, not me!
But here’s the thing. Whoever we’ve signed, whatever the fee, or wherever they’ve come from, the one thing Chris could not do, cannot do, and has not done, is rip apart the sense of camaraderie and spirit among his group of players, and to dismantle the majority of the team that has served us so well. I think we’ve got the balance just about right… some new faces to freshen the squad up who also happen to be high quality top-class footballers.
Crucially we’ve strengthened in areas that are the most important for us in order to win games and survive next year. With the signings of Dean Henderson and Phil Jagielka, I believe our defence will be good enough in this division, although maybe one more additional, versatile defender may be needed. But ultimately, goals win games, and firepower up-front was needed – and has been delivered, by the directors in terms of finance and then by the recruitment team and manager.
Will it all come together and work as planned? No-one knows. We can all guess, have our thoughts and make our predictions. But whatever happens in the next nine months, it’s going to be fast and furious, full of up and downs, and maybe even a bit bumpy at times. So buckle up, strap yourself in, and enjoy the Blades roller-coaster ride!
We’re starting our Premier League journey… ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ!