Sheffield United: The places and the people responsible for making Adam Davies a problem solver

“I played a little bit in school,” Adam Davies says, recalling his days growing-up in Warrington, one of rugby league’s strongest heartlands. “Just at school level, mind. Oh and a Sunday League team too. I was a centre, that was my position, well usually anyway.”
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Sheffield United: "Sick to death" manager insists Wales international is ready

Davies never really fell for the self-styled “Greatest Game”. Football was always his first love. But its brutal physicality taught him never to back down from a challenge. The kind, with his Sheffield United teammate Wes Foderingham beginning a suspension, the goalkeeper is preparing to confront at Coventry City tomorrow night.

Nine months after first arriving at Bramall Lane, following a mid-season move from Stoke, Foderingham’s red card following Saturday’s dramatic game against Blackpool means Davies is expected to make his debut for Paul Heckingbottom’s side in a match of critical importance to both clubs’ seasons. United travel to Warwickshire hoping to arrest a disappointing run of form which, having taken only two points from a possible 12 since the international break, has seen them surrender their position at the top of the Championship table. Their opponents are bottom, but hope to build on last weekend’s morale-boosting victory over fellow strugglers Cardiff which saw them climb to within three of safety.

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Fortunately for United, as they get set to enter battle without the services of a player who has not only kept 18 clean sheets since Davies’ left Staffordshire in January but helped organise their injury-ravaged defence, the 30-year-old is used to solving problems in awkward situations. Born in the German town of Rinteln, where his parents lived on an armed forces base, Davies’ itinerant childhood equipped him with a steel which, if Heckingbottom’s hunch is correct, should soften the blow of Foderingham’s absence.

“It was classed as a British camp, and obviously moving around a lot as a kid, which we did, that meant I had to get used to different environments,” Davies continues. “It does make you grow up quite fast, and also teaches you to stand on your own two feet in a roundabout sort of way. Some of it, I don’t remember too much and you adapt quickly when you’re young. You just get on with things. But I think it must give you a certain type of character. I’ve had a few clubs so, looking back, that’s helped me. It hasn’t done any harm.”

Adam Davies could make his Sheffield United debut nearly a year after joining them from Stoke City: Darren Staples/SportimageAdam Davies could make his Sheffield United debut nearly a year after joining them from Stoke City: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Adam Davies could make his Sheffield United debut nearly a year after joining them from Stoke City: Darren Staples/Sportimage

United are Davies’ fifth of a career which began, before spells with Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke and perhaps most significantly Barnsley, in the youth system at Everton. It was there, surrounded by battle-hardened professionals such as former United centre-half Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Tim Cahill, that his character was shaped and he began to show the calibre which could see him travel to this winter’s World Cup with Wales. One in particular, former USA and Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard, was a particular influence.

“Growing up at Everton, what a fantastic club to be at learning the bread and butter of your trade. Tim was there at the time and he was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League then, definitely, so just to be training with him was brilliant. He also gave me some advice which serves me well to this day.”

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Although Davies declines to divulge the detail of their conversations - “That’s private, you can’t give away all the secrets” - he admits the American’s actions were more revelatory than his words.

“It wasn’t so much what he said, it was more the way he went about things. Every single training session, day in and day out, he gave everything and worked so hard. That professionalism Tim showed left a big impression. It was the type of example every youngster would love to be set.

Adam Davies played rugby league at school in Warrington: Tony JohnsonAdam Davies played rugby league at school in Warrington: Tony Johnson
Adam Davies played rugby league at school in Warrington: Tony Johnson

“He always wanted to be at the best levels. It was invaluable, being in and around all that. I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic people there.”

Someone else who made a big impression on Davies before his return to South Yorkshire was Heckingbottom, after the pair first worked together at Oakwell. Heckingbottom was Davies’ manager when Barnsley won both promotion from League One and also the EFL Trophy in 2016. His presence at United, replacing Slavisa Jokanovic nearly a year ago having previously overseen their development squad, proved instrumental in persuading Davies to swap the bet365 Stadium for Bramall Lane despite Foderingham’s presence.

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“I think any manager that you’ve had success with, that's a great start. I love the way he works. When he stepped in (at Barnsley), the way he dealt with that was fantastic. We were really successful under him, doing well on different fronts. There are no grey areas with Hecky. He puts an arm around you when you need it and kicks you up the backside when you need it too.”

The Sheffield United and Wales goalkeeper was born in GermanyThe Sheffield United and Wales goalkeeper was born in Germany
The Sheffield United and Wales goalkeeper was born in Germany

Despite describing his switch to United as a “huge opportunity”, particularly given that after qualifying for last term’s play-offs they travel to Coventry ranked second, Davies has been forced to bide his time for a chance to showcase the talents which have seen him capped three times by his country. Now recovered from the knee problem he sustained following a freak accident in training over the summer, Foderingham’s sending-off for tangling with Shayne Lavery after the final whistle of last weekend’s 3-3 draw means Davies finally has a chance to cement a place in Heckingbottom’s starting eleven. As well as facing Mark Robins’ men, he is also expected to feature against United’s fellow heavyweights Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion.

“As a professional athlete, you want to play every week,” Davies says. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen but I want to get my head down and work hard and see what comes. I’m moving into my prime. I feel good.

“I’m consistent. I have played a lot of football at this level. I’m calm and collected. Job done.”