Sheffield United: Chris Wilder hails Jack O’Connell’s character after insisting his new contract shows Blades are heading in right direction ahead of Sheffield Derby against Sheffield Wednesday
Chris Wilder has hailed Jack O’Connell’s qualities ‘as a player and as a person’ after the defender signed a new long-term contract at Sheffield United.
The 24-year-old agreed to remain at Bramall Lane until 2023 earlier this week, giving United a significant boost ahead of Monday’s Sheffield Derby against Wednesday at Hillsborough.
O’Connell has established himself as a firm fans’ favourite in South Yorkshire after making the move from Brentford in 2016, despite a rocky start which saw him struggle in early games against Southend and Millwall.
But the defender has excelled at Championship level after helping United win the League One title in his first season, and was the subject of a rejected bid from Brighton and Hove Albion in the summer transfer window.
And Wilder, speaking ahead of Monday’s derby, said: “We talk about ‘long-term thinking’ and tying down our best players, ones we want to build a future around, and it’s important for me as a manager to think forward and plan.
“This is great news. It’s a reward for Jack and his performances, and he’s a really good fit for us. The club has given him the opportunity to play in the Championship but he had to take it, and he’s done that.
“I’m delighted that Jack and a few others, like Billy Sharp, Enda Stevens and David McGoldrick, have recently re-signed with us and will be part of this club going forward.”
Wilder also revealed that O’Connell, who recently saw his long run of consecutive league appearances in United colours ended by a hamstring injury, will be fit for Monday’s derby, as will George Baldock and John Egan.
“Some people will look at it as protection for the club and some will see it as a reward for Jack,” Wilder added.
“But they’re under contract and the club has assets now. When I walked through the door there wasn’t many assets, and now there are many throughout the group.
“I obviously don’t want a fire sale, or hopefully see one happening, but there are assets right through the squad now and that shows we’re moving in the right direction.”
“Perhaps after the Southend game, not many would have predicted his development,” Wilder added, referring to the 3-0 defeat early in his Bramall Lane tenure when O’Connell scored an own goal and then gifted the visitors their third goal.
“But that was very early days and we all made mistakes in that period.
“The character shown by Jack, to bounce back from that, speaks volume about what he’s about as a player and a person, because it was a pretty horrific start to his career here.
“But now he’s a fans’ favourite, has a song that rings around the ground, and plaudits like that aren’t easily handed out by our supporters.
“Players have got to do a lot of things right and proper as a player and person to receive that acclaim. And certainly Jack has done that.”