If folk accuse Jamal Blackman of lacking experience at the highest levels of the game, he can show them his Champions League winners medal, smile sweetly, and wait for their response.
The goalkeeper was a member of the Chelsea squad which beat Bayern Munich in the final five seasons ago and, despite being handed a watching brief inside the Allianz Arena, admits it provided him with an invaluable insight into what it takes to reach the top.
“That was a great for me, being able to travel to that game at such a young age and being a part of everything going on,” Blackman recollects. “It was a historic thing and a wonderful experience. Being with the big names and seeing the emotions they went through, it was really, really good.”
Blackman was still a teenager when Roberto Di Matteo summoned him to Bavaria to cover for Petr Cech and Ross Turnbull. Now aged 23, he is preparing to help Sheffield United take on the Championship’s status quo after moving to Bramall Lane on a season long loan.
“It was such a team effort, the team spirit was so high,” Blackman, continuing his trip down memory lane, says. “We had two different managers (Di Matteo and André Villas-Boas) and everyone was doubting what we could do. We went into every game as the underdog and went behind against Barca (in the semi-final) too. I know the team spirit here is very strong as well and I’m looking forward to being a part of that. I’ve come here to help as much as possible and try to get us as high as we can, promotion or as high as we can.”
Despite arriving in difficult circumstances - an injury to Simon Moore means Blackman is almost certain to start against Brentford this weekend - the Croydon-born player does not owe his presence to the 27-year-old’s misfortune. Wilder revealed Blackman had been “our number one, long term target” after deciding to bolster United’s goalkeeping options. Although Chelsea’s development policy has attracted criticism, the career path they have plotted for Blackman means he has already been exposed to pressure and stress. Loaned to WycomBe Wanderers last term, he took part in the League Two club’s FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
“The Tottenham game as well was high-pressure,” Blackman says. “It was such a big game for the club and we all felt really positive. We all felt we could win but circumstances changed that. We went on and did well in the league after that, though, so it was all good. I probably wasn’t the most popular player with the Tottenham fans, no.”
Standing six feet six inches tall, Blackman understandably cites one of his strengths as dealing with aerial balls. Organising his defence - “you’ve got to be vocal, it’s the trait of every successful goalkeeper” - is another although, having also helped Chelsea win the Europa League a year after their triumph in Bavaria, Wilder will also have been attracted by his knowledge of big-match situations.
“I’m really looking forward to playing, it’s a big club. I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing what I can do. It’s important to get as much experience as possible. I’m very lucky to get the opportunity to come here.”
With Moore expected to return in early September, Blackman accepts he must impress or risk being consigned to the bench given Wilder’s refusal to broker agreements which guarantee loanees must play.
“There are some really good ‘keepers here, Simon and Jake (Eastwood) are great lads too, so I know I’m going to have to do well,” Blackman says. “But that’s part and parcel of football. You don’t get given anything. You have to work hard and earn everything you get.”