The two Sheffield United players that money couldn't buy now
Alan Biggs looks back and lauds the impact of two players who more than made their mark on Bramall Lane
If international breaks are good for anything it’s a pause for reflection. No two players have added more punch to Sheffield United’s weight than Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham.
That one has so tragically been forced into retirement and the other is fighting serious injury are personal considerations that come first to mind. And rightly so. Besides being top performers, these are great guys prominent among dressing room leaders. But you naturally think also of the cost to the club and it is huge.
These were the players, after all, who gave Premier League pundits a whole new dimension to talk about. They changed the usual conversation surrounding a promoted club. Instead, the Blades were lauded with words like “innovative”, “pioneering” and “groundbreaking.”
All because of the Chris Wilder-Alan Knill tactical ploy that, I’m pretty sure, would still be in use under Paul Heckingbottom but for the cruel misfortunes blighting United’s famed “overlapping centre-backs.”
Throw in, for want of a better word, an overlapping injury for Rhys Norrington-Davies and Heckingbottom is stripped of the dynamic that propelled the team to a shock ninth-place in the top flight in 2020.
If there was a weakness to the ploy it was always that you couldn’t find players like this in a manual; replacing them near-impossible. Which is why the identifying and capture of Anel Ahmedhodzic was near miraculous as the nearest to the prototype. Also why his recent lay off came as another blow to what is still a preferred 3-5-2 system. His imminent return, and that of Oli McBurnie, can’t come soon enough despite the critically-timed upturn of four points in two games. But these difficulties also point to the magnificence of O’Connell and Basham in adjusting to, and excelling in, previously unknown territory for a centre back.
O’Connell was a hero of two promotions across 177 appearances after joining in 2016; his retirement at 29 after forcing his way into the England reckoning a grievous event.
Basham, 35, will reappear all being well; approaching a decade at Bramall Lane as United’s longest serving player with 384 appearances to his name. Together, they tore up strips of touchline, right and left. Along the entire touchline, that is.
It really was a phenomenal act. Thoughts and best wishes with both.