Sheffield United: Rhian Brewster on faith, Liverpool, Chelsea and the moment he knew he was playing for a very special club
“It’s fine, no problem at all,” says Rhian Brewster, confirming he is happy to talk about how his faith and former team mates helped him through the dark times at Bramall Lane.
But before all of that, the centre-forward wants to highlight the moment when Sheffield United’s supporters reminded him he plays for a special football club.
“The back end of last season, Burnley at home, that’s when I really knew they’d got my back,” Brewster explains, describing the incident which consummated his relationship with them following seven months of trouble, angst and strife. “I came on, pressed their centre-back and won the ball with a slide tackle. It didn’t go in the net. It went out for a throw. But the crowd started cheering and chanting my name. That’s when I realised. It made me feel great.”
Good humoured, gregarious and willing to engage with the journalists who have gathered to meet him, Brewster oozes confidence as he walks onto the stage which dominates the media suite at United’s training complex. Having scored twice in three games en route to tomorrow’s match against Cardiff City, the 21-year-old appears comfortable in the spotlight - figuratively and literally - as members of the club’s in-house PR team ensure the moment is captured on film.
It makes you wonder why, 61 weeks after becoming the most expensive player in United’s history, Brewster hasn’t been made available for interview before. But things haven’t always been as good for him as they are right now. Last month’s stunning finish at Blackburn Rovers - “I was pretty happy with that one, just gutted we didn’t win” - was his first league goal for the club since being purchased from Liverpool for £23.5m.
Although Brewster insists he never really felt the pressure, preferring to focus on football rather than the size of his transfer fee, thanking the fans for their patience and perseverance suggests he is being selective with the truth. The England under-21 international, who has already experienced a relegation from the Premier League and three managerial changes during his time in South Yorkshire, also drew on other sources of encouragement through the dark times too.
Former team mates, particularly those on Merseyside, often reached out. And as Brewster explains, there was inspiration from an even higher power than Sadio Mane, who went out of his way to help him when Jurgen Klopp’s side visited United in February.
“It’s been a help, a huge help,” Brewster, a practicing Muslim, says. “You always look for signs and obviously praying every day, that’s really good too. Your life changes from being in a bad place to a good place.
“You always have a purpose in life, no matter what you do or how well or badly it’s going. It reminds me of that.
“Often people turn to their faith when things aren’t going well and I understand that. I get it totally, I really do. But you should stay close to it when things are going well too. It should be with you always.”
Brewster started his career at Chelsea, progressing through their youth system before being lured to Merseyside as a teenager. After capturing the imagination of England’s coaches as well as those at Liverpool’s academy, his profile soared thanks to some splendid performances in the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup - returning home from India clutching a winners medal and the Golden Boot.
“Being at those clubs as a youngster, I’ve been spoiled I suppose,” Brewster smiles. “I remember looking through the fence at Didier Drogba, watching what he was doing because we weren’t really allowed to mix with the first teamers there back then, and just being in awe.
“At Liverpool, being around people like Sadio, Mo Salah and Jurgen Klopp taught me so much too because you can only learn from watching them. How can you not?”
Salah, Klopp and Mane, who pulled Brewster to one side before Liverpool’s game at United earlier this year, didn’t just provide a footballing education. They delivered life lessons as well.
“The thing you notice about all of them is just how down to earth they are. They’re these huge names because of what they do on the pitch. But away from it, they’re just normal humble people. That sets a real example about how you should be as a person I think.
“I know it sometimes comes across differently, because of everything that goes with the game these days, but really, most footballers in my experience are like that. The lads down at Chelsea were the same, just really grounded and not above themselves. Stay humble. Just because you play football for a living, you’re no different to anyone else. Stay humble. I always remember that.”
Providing the hamstring injury he sustained after continuing his scoring streak against Bristol City last weekend heals, Brewster’s name is likely to be one of the first Paul Heckinbottom scribbles onto United’s team sheet for their trip to the Welsh capital. Having taken charge before the 2-0 victory over Nigel Pearson’s side, 72 hours after Slavisa Jokanovic was sacked, he used his pre-match briefing yesterday to stress how important Brewster can be for United when firing on all cylinders.
“When things weren’t going great goals wise, Sadio had a chat with me when Liverpool came here last season,” Brewster reveals. “He told me ‘Just keep working hard, keep training at 100 percent and keep trusting in yourself. You’ve scored goals in the past and lots of them. So remember, you are here for a reason and that reason is you can do it.’ He talked about the importance of always believing.”
Brewster did and, and as his form of late demonstrates, still does.