Sheffield United: Why Enda Stevens is so pleased and proud to be a Blade
There is an argument, supported by some of the sharpest minds at Bramall Lane, that Enda Stevens is Sheffield United's most improved player in recent months.
The statistics of his season - 1357 passes, 117 crosses and six assists - support that claim. So does the defender's elevation into the Republic of Ireland's international squad.
Although Stevens himself was too modest to comment when the theory was put to him earlier today, he did acknowledge his game has come on leaps and bounds since moving to Bramall Lane two years ago.
"I think we've all improved," Stevens insisted. "We're not a team of superstars.
"If one of us plays good, the rest of us play good. I'm not going to light up a game by beating three or four men but we've nailed down performances. We've got to keep on doing that. I think that's why we are where we are, because of the whole group of players."
Stevens, who together with Billy Sharp agreed a new contract earlier this week, is expected to make his 39th appearance of the season when Chris Wilder's side visit West Bromwich Albion tomorrow evening. Doubts about whether or not he will be deployed in his preferred position of wing-back or at centre-half, where he has recently excelled in Jack O'Connell's absence, confirm not only his versatility but why the manager, whose squad travelled to the Midlands second in the Championship, was so keen to secure his future.
The two men first worked together at Northampton Town when Wilder, then in charge of the League Two club, signed Stevens on loan from Aston Villa. After continuing to monitor his progress following a permanent transfer to Portsmouth, the 51-year-old recruited him again when Stevens' agreement at Fratton Park expired.
"It was a stage in my career where it was a low," he said. "Football is full of lows, there aren't many highs.
"I wasn't really a footballer then, I was stuck in a rut and didn't really know what it meant to be a player. When I was there, the gaffer sat me down and gave me good advice about what I should do. He was great to me and it all worked out for the best."
"You've got to prioritise it and fall in love with the game," Stevens continued. "That's what it means to be a footballer.
"I fell out of love with the game and it wasn't until I went to Portsmouth that I fell back in love with it. And I still am now."
Improvement was a key theme of Wilder's pre-match media conference yesterday morning, both on an individual basis and collectively. With Sharp also credited for adding an extra dimension to his game - "Bill was a bloody good player when he first came in. He's an even better one now" - it is clear why coaching staff have petitioned so hard for the duo to be awarded fresh terms.
"I see it as a club that wants to go places and thankfully they want me to be here while that happens," Stevens said, after committing his future for the next three years. "I think we've got a good thing going on and long may it continue."