Sheffield Derby: Billy Sharp dreaming of where his Sheffield United fairytale will take him next as he prepares to tackle Sheffield Wednesday

Some players chase fame and trophies. Others, although they wouldn't care to admit it, are more interested in accumulating money than medals.

Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 8:53 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 9:02 pm
Billy Sharp

But Billy Sharp's motivation, the reason why he never gave up on Sheffield United, is relatively simple and straight-forward: Achieving something for his city, his people and, most of all, his boyhood club.

"I never wanted to leave in the first place," he says, reflecting upon the the second and probably most frustrating of his two previous spells at Bramall Lane. "But I needed to for the benefit of my career.

"In the back of my mind, though, I always wanted to come back and, I am not scared to say it, be a hero.

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“It didn’t go as well as I wanted the last time, and I wanted to play for Sheffield United and be remembered."

Sharp is relaxing in the dug-out at United's home stadium as, gazing across the deserted stands, he traces a journey which began at their Steelphalt youth academy before taking him to Scunthorpe, Southampton, Nottingham Forest and plenty of places in between.

But even though he hoped all roads led back to South Yorkshire, it was not until three seasons ago, when then manager Nigel Adkins prised him away from Leeds, that the centre-forward was offered a chance to address unfinished business.

Tonight, when Sharp leads his team into action against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, he will be the envy of every supporter in the away end.

Probably, given the significance of the occasion and the demand for tickets, a fair few in the home sections too.

Sharp laughs at the suggestion his story could have been torn straight from the pages of a Boy's Own annual but beneath the smile, because he would have been sat in the Leppings Lane end were he not a footballer, this match isn't just professional.

It is acutely personal.

"I have achieved one thing by playing for Sheffield United, to get promotion with them once, up to now it has been special, and I just want to be here for the next couple of seasons to make more memories with this great club.

"I am living my own dream. To play for Sheffield United was a dream. To do some of the things we have collectively over the years will live with me forever. But I'm dreaming of doing more, instead of leaving it here."

If United beat repeat last term's victory in the corresponding fixture, it will represent another personal milestone for the 33-year-old. After missing that match through injury, despite watching from the bench, Sharp has yet to help United beat their arch-rivals after the two meetings since ended in a draw.

Having scored 23 goals in his previous 33 outings, a sequence which recently saw him become the most prolific marksman in England's top four divisions since the turn of the century, he enters the game hoping to break that duck.

"People say players come into their peak at 27 or 28, but I don’t know how they can say that when at 30 you have 10 years experience of being a professional behind you," Sharp insists, after being informed Chris Wilder believes he is in the form of his life.

“I do agree with the gaffer, I think I am playing the best football of my career.

"But I think it helps playing in the team that I am playing in.

“I know what my jobs are, I know what my team-mate’s jobs are, and it’s important we get around each other to make sure we perform as a unit.

“Credit to the boys, they have been superb."

By issuing that instruction, Sharp inadvertently reveals one of the secrets of United's success following Wilder's appointment in May 2016.

Like his captain, the former Halifax Town and Oxford chief is a lifelong follower of the side he now manages and has built his squad on gifted but unheralded individuals rather than household names.

It is a policy which, Sharp acknowledges, makes tonight's skirmish so fascinating.

Although Wilder's opposite number is expected to adopt a more organic approach, Wednesday's recent history is one of lavish spending until Financial Fair Play intervened.

"The dressing room is similar to other groups I have played with at other times in my career," Sharp admits.

"But it’s hard work why we are in this position we are in.

“The gaffer and his backroom staff have trained us every day, to become better every day, and I feel we have got better this season.

“We are doing better at this stage than we did last season. We just need to keep pushing to reach our target, which is to get promoted out of the Championship."

Third in the table with 12 games remaining United following last month's win over West Bromwich Albion, who finished 10th following 2017's League One title winning campaign, are well-placed to achieve that aim.

"In the last two and half years, as a club, we have been very successful," Sharp says.

"We might not have won anything last year, but I thought for the first season back in the Championship it was a very successful season.

“It gave us a target to beat this year, and at the minute it’s going really well. 

"Hopefully that can continue. I am not scared to say it, we want promotion and we’d like it to be automatic promotion.

"If it can’t be that, the next best thing is try and do it through the play-offs.

“If we reach the play-offs then we have beaten the target from last year."