Billy Sharp laughed but refused to utter a word in answer when one journalist enquired if he would be swapping text messages with Gary Madine before tonight’s game against Cardiff City.
But Sheffield United’s captain became positively animated after being asked why, despite graduating with honours from the Steelphalt Academy, he failed to make the grade at Bramall Lane first time around.
“There was probably all sorts of reasons,” Sharp, reflecting upon events surrounding his move to Scunthorpe in 2005, said. “The manager might have been planning something, he might have needed to money for something else or he might have wanted to take a different route which is entirely fair. They’re paid to make decisions but what does stick in my mind is the fee. £100,000 isn’t a great deal in football terms. I thought I might have been worth a little bit more than that.”
Sharp, now in his third and most successful spell with United, will be able to discover the thinking behind that calculation when City arrive in South Yorkshire for a pivotal battle in the war for both automatic promotion and play-off qualification. Neil Warnock, who has led the visitors to second in the Championship table, was responsible for orchestrating the 32-year-old’s sale to Glanford Park. Given that he scored 56 times in only 96 outings before being re-signed, two seasons later, for around £2m, the decision to part company with Sharp appears a rare misjudgment in Warnock’s memorable career.
“I suppose, looking back, I should thank him,” the centre-forward, who claimed 30 when United cruised to last season’s League One title, continued. “Because I went to Scunny, got all those goals, and that sort of launched my career.”
Only a point behind sixth-place with seven matches remaining, Warnock’s return provides one fascinating sub-plot to a match United know could shape their future not only this season but also, given the Premier League’s riches, for many beyond. Madine’s presence in the City squad is another. Fourteen months ago, the former Sheffield Wednesday striker was withdrawn from a meeting with United by his previous club Bolton Wanderers after being filmed insulting Sharp.
“All I want to do is score as many goals as possible and help this club in any way I can,” Sharp, demonstrating greater maturity than his opposite number in Wales continued. “Because that’s what matters, that’s what’s important.”
City travel north in fine form after recording their eighth straight win by beating Burton Albion 3-1 last weekend as United were drawing 1-1 with Brentford.
“We’ve shown, on our day, that we can be a match for anyone,” Sharp said. “We enjoy the challenge and, despite what everybody else was saying at the start, we’ve always believed in ourselves and what we can do.”