Sheffield United: Richard Stearman vows to always put others first ahead of Sunderland tie
The shoulder length hair has gone, replaced by a sensible side-parting and shorter, conservative cut.
It is a look more befitting of someone regarded as an elder statesman in the dressing room. Which, by his own admission, is the character Richard Stearman plays on a regular basis now.
"It's something I've been doing in the more recent parts of my career," admits the Sheffield United defender, who has made only one first team appearance so far this term. "But I'm professional enough to know my role in the squad and that there's still lots I can do to help. Because it's about winning games as a team, not as individuals."
Tonight, when Sunderland visit Bramall Lane in the Carabao Cup, Stearman is expected to be cast in one of the lead roles. Chris Wilder, who handed him a start in the second round win over Blackburn Rovers, is planning a series of changes for meeting with Jack Ross' side. It will represent a rare opportunity, not only for Stearman to enjoy some competitive football, but also convince the manager and his staff he is worthy of a place when Liverpool travel to South Yorkshire in the Premier League this weekend.
Still, despite being of huge personal significance, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City centre-half has used United's preparations for the tie to continue counseling his younger team mates. Together with Phil Jagielka, previously of Everton and England, the 32-year-old's experience of playing top-flight football makes him invaluable behind the scenes.
"It's just general knowledge of stadiums, of opponents and little bits and pieces like that," Stearman says. "That's what we try and pass on in the week. I think we can help out people, Phil and I, who haven't been in the division before. We put that across whenever and wherever. It might be a text message, something on the training ground, or even over lunch."
"People probably forget that I've had 80 or so games up there," Stearman continues. "When I was coming through, I had some brilliant older pro's who helped me along the way and, if I'm being honest, came across some not so brilliant ones as well. It's the ones who help you out that you gravitate towards and look up to. So that's what I'm trying to do now because any successful club, any good team, has that mentality about it where everyone pitches in."
Despite representing spending three seasons in the top-flight at Molineux, Stearman has tasted life in the lower reaches too. Which is why, reflecting upon Wolves' subsequent slide into League One, he suspects Sunderland will pose a much bigger threat than many people realise. Beaten in the play-offs earlier this year, Ross' men are probably the biggest scalp in third tier football.
"The pressure is going to be off them a bit," Stearman acknowledges. "They can come here and just give it a shot, knowing they're not going to be the favourites. I know what it's like to be part of a group that everyone is gunning for and it's not easy, because there's difficulties that come with it."
Not, Stearman reminds, that a club of Sunderland's stature ever enjoy a completely free hit.
"They're probably going to make some changes too, so the boys coming in there are going to be under a bit of pressure to show they should be out there more regularly. They're powerhouses in that division. They'll be wanting to impress. So there's a pressure there too. It's not completely off them, they'll know that. But equally, they know most who look at the game are going to expect us to get through.
"Nothing is ever as easy as that, though. Not in football."
Although Stearman enjoys the responsibilities being viewed as a mentor brings - "I'm doing my badges, I've got my A-Licence coming up, but hopefully I've got a few seasons left in me yet" - he is not content to simply focus on helping those around him. After being summoned into the starting eleven at a critical stage last season, his contribution during April's games against Preston North End and Nottingham Forest helped United secure promotion from the Championship.
"You ask any footballer, they want to be playing games," he says. "I kept myself right last year and needed to be ready for when I was called upon. Certain players, at the back end of the season, certain players who were on the fringes then found themselves in the team at a vital point of the season. If you're not ready, then opportunities pass you by and the group doesn't achieve what it wants to."
Barring injury or illness, Stearman, who scored one of United's two goals against Rovers, is set to make way for John Egan against Jurgen Klopp's side this weekend.
"I enjoy watching John play," he smiles. "I'm actually a really big fan of his. He's done brilliant, he's a proper whole-hearted defender, and I'll try and help him in any way I can."
Despite taking responsibility for United's disjointed display against Rovers, Wilder used his pre-match audience witn the media to remind his selection policy should not be used as an excuse for another muddled performance. Stearman, who could be joined in the side by Mo Besic, Ravel Morrison and Ben Osborn, concurs.
"It can be difficult when you are just thrown together, because it can take 15 minutes or so to get used to what's happening. But we've had one now, and so hopefully we can put on a slightly better performance than last time.
"We came through in the end because our attitude was right. It's got to be right again. I don’t see why we can’t go far and we want to get through.”