Sheffield United skipper reveals how he plans to give something back to the community
Football can be a ruthless, cold-hearted business.
Managers get sacked at the first sign of trouble, players are moved on the moment they’ve served their purpose and talent, not good behaviour or professionalism, its most valuable currency.
Billy Sharp accepts the ground rules. Even if he doesn’t always like them. But Sheffield United’s captain is concerned that even those on the first rung of the ladder are being exposed to the sport’s more unsavoury aspects.
Which is why, after establishing an academy for youngsters of all abilities, he wants to do things differently.
“I want it to go big,” Sharp said. “I’ve known and heard about kids who have been somewhere for six weeks or so and then told not to come back. That must be horrible.
“I want to give an opportunity to a kid who might not be ready now but who might be ready in six months, twelve months or whatever and give them a platform to maybe step back in.
“But that’s not the be all and end all. It’s also about enjoyment and learning social skills.”
Although the decision to set-up a youth programme stems partly from his desire to enter the world of coaching when he finally hangs-up his boots, Sharp also views it as a way of giving something back to both a game and a city which has been so good to him. In an interview with The Star towards the end of last season, the 34-year-old spoke passionately about his love not only for United but Sheffield as a whole; even paying tribute to arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday for their role in helping make it, as far as he is concerned, one of the country’s great sporting meccas.
“It would make me really proud to see someone come through it and so something,” Sharp, describing himself as “one of the lucky ones”, admitted. “I was fortunate enough to get asked to stay on but lots didn’t.
“But like I say, it’s not the be all and the end all. Football is about more than turning professional. I’m equally proud when the parents of some of the kids come up to me and tell me how much their children are enjoying it, how they’ve come out of their shells and love making new friends. That’s brilliant to hear and I want to give something to them as well.”
Sharp was enjoying his third and most successful spell with United, the team he has supported since childhood, when competition was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seventh in the table and preparing for an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, United have thrust themselves into contention for a place in Europe only a season after being promoted.
Sharp returned to Bramall Lane from Leeds in 2015 and after helping Chris Wilder’s side win the League One title a year later, became the most prolific goal scorer in the country’s top four divisions this century midway through the previous campaign.
After finding himself on the bench at the beginning of this term, he has since secured a regular place in United’s starting eleven and was on target when they beat Norwich City during their last PL outing.
Insisting he has no plans to retire yet, Sharp said: “I’m doing my (coaching) badges and I want to keep progressing with those. It’s too early to say now what I’ll do with them though.
“I’d love to give management a crack one day but whether I go into coaching at pro’ level or with the academy, go really hands on, I’ll have to see.
“We were in the process of setting up the Easter camps when all this happened so it was disappointing to have to cancel those because I really enjoy them. But everything will return to normal and this gives me a bit of time to put some more thought into the academy and what we’re doing.”