Sheffield United: The hobby George Baldock believes can help him win another promotion
“I’m always listening to them, I never used to but I do it all the time now and, to be honest, I think they’re brilliant,” admits George Baldock as he breaks into a broad, beaming smile.
Rather than revealing a newly discovered passion for some famous old band or discussing his preferred choice of pundits on Monday Night Football, the Sheffield United defender is talking about podcasts. Self-improvement podcasts to be exact. Ones which, on the face of it, have absolutely nothing to do with his actual profession. But the more he subscribes too, the deeper he analyses the messages they are conveying, the greater his conviction that the business leaders, basketballers and captains of industry whose life stories are being pumped through his headphones can help him become a more rounded player.
Aged 28, Baldock is in a relaxed mood as he talks about the hobby he shares with his team mate Ben Osborn; referencing some of the titles they both enjoy - “High Performance, that’s really good, he listens to that as well” - and a few of those they don’t: “Keep those to yourself though because people still put effort into them and they might actually be good if you want to learn something else.” But only an hour or so earlier, Baldock had been sweating his way through one of the taxing training sessions manager Slavisa Jokanovic has introduced onto the club’s schedule since taking charge at Bramall Lane three months ago. Working for the Serb, Baldock reveals, is a mental as well as physical test given his obsession with minor details and tactical minutiae. Which probably helps explain why, rather than using his afternoons to improve his golf handicap or ranking on FIFA, the full-back now prefers to spend them studying instead.
“As well as listening to the podcasts, I also read the odd book,” Baldock says, busting one of the stereotypes surrounding his chosen sport. “It’s a trend that I see a lot now, because I think people are realising the more you can understand different things, the more you learn and take on board ideas from other walks of life, the better it can make you not only at what you do but also as a person as well. Seriously, I think lots of us do it now.
“The other day I was reading about this guy who had won the NBA title. One of the things he said that had helped him achieve that was dropping his ego and not living too far in the future because, if you do, it can really hinder your performance. That resonated with me a lot. The same as the High Performance one. What I’ve taken from that is win, lose or draw, just make sure that you’re doing the right things no matter what. That’s a really common theme.”
A mainstay of the team which gained promotion from the Championship under Jokanovic’s predecessor Chris Wilder, and also the one which finished ninth in the Premier League a year later, Baldock hopes to apply the knowledge he is gleaning from his new favourite pastime to United’s latest push for top-flight football. Relegated last season, in the most emphatic fashion possible, they initially struggled to readjust to life back in the second tier. However, after entering the last international break still searching for their first league win under Jokanovic, United have since begun to look something like the side everyone thought they would be following the former Yugoslavia and Chelsea midfielder’s appointment.
“Doing what I’ve been doing, it’s definitely changed my approach,” Baldock continues, “But I can still develop and improve on that.
“Let me put it like this - I hate losing. Absolutely hate it. Unfortunately last season we did quite a lot of that and so, because confidence was a bit low and probably everyone was still feeling raw, it was probably inevitable that we started a bit slowly. Even though we were all trying to make sure that wasn’t the case.
“As players and fans, football can be the best game in the world. But if you’re losing, it can feel like the worst. So one of the things I’ve tried to do now is still retain that hate for losing but make sure that, if it does happen, that I’m not going to get too down because that can cloud what you do. The same as winning, don’t get too high. I know everyone tells you that but listening to people from other walks of life telling you the same thing really reinforces it.”
Baldock made his 150th appearance for United at Bournemouth last weekend, sustaining a suspected hamstring injury midway through what proved to be a controversial defeat with Jokanovic arguing - and not without justification - that both of the hosts’ goals should have been disallowed. Although that loss came on the back of a 2-0 reverse by Middlesbrough, the improvement in United’s performance levels have been plain to see. When they return to action with a home game against Stoke City later this month, United will be searching for their fourth win in eight outings, having also drawn with Preston North End and taken Southampton to penalties during a fiercely contested Carabao Cup tie. Ralph Hasenhuttl, Jokanovic’s opposite number, later confessed there had been no discernible difference between his PL side and their counterparts from South Yorkshire.
“He has done it before,” Baldock says, reminding how Jokanovic took Watford and Fulham up before being hired by United. “He’s been brilliant with us - really, really good - and is exactly what we needed. He’s brought that belief back and he trusts in our intelligence. That’s one of the reasons why I’m trying to be the best that I can be.”