When you have played for England, shared a pitch with Alan Woodward and dumped some of the country’s toughest defenders on the seat of their pants, the chances are you’re pretty difficult to impress.
So Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and his squad should take great pride from the fact that Tony Currie, the greatest player ever to wear the famous red and white jersey, is positively salivating at football which has seen them win promotion from League One.
“The results have been exceptional but the football, well, it’s just been something else. Watching the team has been an absolute pleasure. Nobody else in the division has come close.”
United’s results this season have, as Currie highlights, been phenomenal. Unbeaten since February and averaging over two points per game, they face Port Vale this afternoon nine points clear at the top of the table and 16 above Fleetwood Town in third. But it is the manner in which they have been achieved, the 67-year-old insists, that makes them stand out from the crowd.
“It’s successful and it’s really entertaining,” he says. “And, as we’ve all seen in the past, you often get one or the other. It’s very rare that you get both. The lads attack in numbers and even the defenders are getting in on the goals. Some of the stuff I’ve seen lately has been, other than that final ball which is what separates the big names from the rest, top-flight quality. There isn’t another group at this level who can come close to producing it and, because of that, it would be an absolute travesty if we don’t go on the lift the title.”
United can take a step towards doing exactly that when, 24 hours before their nearest rivals Bolton Wanderers visit Oldham, they face Michael Brown’s side in Staffordshire. Wilder, whose appointment Currie endorsed when it was confirmed 11 months ago, admitted following last weekend’s victory over Northampton Town that securing a top two berth represented only part of his mission at Bramall Lane. Finishing first is the ultimate prize.
“Chris has got to take so much credit for what’s happened,” Currie, now United’s official ambassador, continues. “You can only produce the type of football the boys have been doing if you are given the confidence and licence before you go out there on the pitch.
“The last thing I always used to say before we went out in my day was ‘Always make sure you’re in a position to receive the ball.’ Admittedly it was pretty selfish because I usually had it. But, if you’ve got three, four or even five options, you’ll always stand a chance. Chris clearly works to the same principles and, seeing it put into practice again makes me feel so, so proud.”
Currie made 377 appearances and scored 68 goals after joining United from Watford in 1968. A member of the squad which finished sixth, only four points behind eventual champions Derby County seven years later, he won the last of his 17 international caps during a friendly against Sweden before, having spent three seasons with Leeds, captaining Queens Park Rangers in the 1982 FA Cup final.
“One of the things I really like about Chris, other than his passion for the club of course, is that he’s brought in the right players,” Currie says. “As I midfielder myself, Paul Coutts and John Fleck have been exceptional. They’ve bossed opponents and been a real driving force.
“I love watching Mark Duffy. I always remember thinking, after he carved us apart for Scunthorpe a few years back, why on earth isn’t he here? Well now he is and the kid has got huge talent. You can see the difference he’s made. He’s a clever, intelligent player.”
Currie is also a huge admirer of a bombastic one too.
“Billy Sharp’s goals have been massively important throughout the season,” he adds. “Like Chris, he’s a Blade and I’m really chuffed for him that he’s achieved success here. Billy hasn’t always had a run he probably should have done here in the past. You can see what it means to him and he deserves everything that comes his way.”
Wilder, also a lifelong United supporter and former player, has insisted he remains focused on trying to win their remaining four matches before making plans for the Championship next term. Currie is confident they can prosper a division above and claims this group of players reminds him of another famous United side.
“The way they are together, the way they fight, it reminds me of the (Brian) Deane and (Tony) Agana era,” he says. “I think they’ll do well because the football they’ve produced this season would, as far as I’m concerned, have seen them competing up there anyway.”