How “incredible” Man City man James McAtee turned Sheffield United career around

McAtee’s “incredible” mentality hailed by teammate after bouncing back from Luton low-point
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James McAtee has “properly, properly matured” as both a person and a player during his loan spell at Sheffield United, one of his teammates has insisted, after hailing his “incredible mentality” to bounce back from a baptism of fire early in his Blades career.

McAtee, who scored his fourth goal in United colours after coming off the bench in defeat at Millwall at the weekend, looks a player transformed from the teenager that was dragged off at half-time of only his third senior league start earlier in the season at Luton Town.

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The England U21 international has used that experience to fuel his development with many, including boss Paul Heckingbottom, expecting the Luton game to be something of a turning point in McAtee’s formative career.

And, speaking ahead of this weekend’s clash with Watford, striker Oli McBurnie paid tribute to the now-20-year-old’s mentality as well as his undoubted quality on the ball.

“He’s properly, properly matured,” McBurnie told The Star. “He’ll hate me for bringing it up but the Luton game, the way he reacted to that was incredible.

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“I like to think I’m quite mentally strong and that could have ruined me. His first proper taste of men’s football and what a game to get thrown into.

“It didn’t go the way he wanted - and we’ll banter him about it now, because we know how good he is - but the way he took that on the chin was incredible.

“He spoke to me about it after the game and said: ‘That was good for me, that, because I’ve never played in a game like that and I can improve’. And I was sat there thinking: ‘Wow, this kid’s 19 and that’s his mentality?’ I find it incredible.

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“He never ceases to amaze me sometimes. Sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong. But the difference from then to now is huge and he’s probably one of the first names on the teamsheet. When he doesn’t play, you’re lacking something he would bring.

“So the turnaround is incredible. He’s got so much ability, he can get to wherever he wants to go.”

McBurnie knows exactly how a loan spell can aid a young player’s development, having spent time at Chester as a 17-year-old from Bradford City.

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“Suddenly I was playing against 35-year-old men who’d played their whole career in the Football League and they knew every trick in the book,” Scottish international McBurnie added.

“That was the time I learned the most, the step I took in terms of little tricks and things that I use to this day now. I learned those from that loan.

“I think Macca was saying he had clubs in Spain he could have gone to, and he wouldn’t have learned half the stuff there that he’s learned since being here.

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“I think he loves it here and he’s happy. When you go out, sometimes you feel like a fish out of water and it feels like a completely different sport to the one you’re used to playing.

“But I think they’re so key in terms of your career for youngsters. That’s why I always tell the young boys here. ‘If you’re not in and around the first team, go out and play men’s football. There’s no feeling like it.’”

McBurnie and McAtee are expected to feature on Saturday as United - whose lead over third-placed Middlesbrough has been cut to four points - look to arrest their run of back-to-back defeats at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Watford.

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“You learn so much about yourself as a person too,” McBurnie added. “You can get so comfortable, especially in Macca’s position at Man City. He’s played in the Champions League off the bench and for a 19-year-old kid to be in that position, it’d be so easy to rest on your laurels and become comfortable.

“Why would you need to go out and test yourself and play horrible games like Luton away? It’s not fun. But in terms of development, there’s nothing like it. There’s no replacement.”