'Winding down? No chance!' - Sheffield United skipper Billy Sharp is hungry for more goals, more contracts and more very special days at Bramall Lane
Rather than marking the beginning of the end, Billy Sharp believes that signing a contract extension at Sheffield United represents the start of another exciting chapter in his relationship with the Premier League club.
After turning 34 in February - a month before the season was suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic - Sharp put pen to paper on an agreement tying him to Bramall Lane until at least 2022 during the build-up to tomorrow’s return to action at Aston Villa.
The most prolific goalscorer in English football since the turn of the century, United’s captain and a lifelong supporter of Chris Wilder’s team is viewed as the most influential member of a squad which travels to the West Midlands seventh in the table only three years after being crowned League One champions.
Although he recently outlined ambitions to forge a career as a coach when he eventually retires, Sharp said: “Am I thinking about winding down? No, certainly not. I’ve worked hard for the last few years off the pitch to get in better shape and I’m coming back even fitter and stronger.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I want to keep going for as long as possible. I’m going to be working even harder over the next two years and chase another contract.
“But right now, I’m just looking to finish the season off as strongly as possible because who knows where we can go?”
United were only five points outside the Champions League qualification positions when competition ground to a halt in March, and travel to Villa Park knowing a win will see them climb to fifth with nine matches remaining. Wilder’s side are also preparing to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup later this month, with the winners of that competition gaining entry to the Europa League.
“I haven’t signed a new contract just to wind down and finish my career,” Sharp, who is expected to start against Dean Smith’s men, continued. “I’m determined to get another one.
“It’s an honour to captain this club and I want to carry that on. I’m part of a great team that pushes each other and I want to be a part of that going forward.
“I’m loving it each day and I want it to carry on for many more years to come.”
Despite struggling for game time after helping United secure promotion last term, Sharp regained his place in Wilder’s first choice eleven following the January transfer window - scoring for the third time in only four outings when Norwich City were beaten in its final outing before lockdown was announced.
Although the likes of Celtic and Nottingham Forest were reportedly monitoring his position earlier this year, Sharp insisted: “I never considered leaving. That’s why I was a little bit disappointed with how uncertain it was in January.
“I dropped from the Premier League into League One in the space of 18 months or so because I was coming back to United and I had no issues with that. So why would I want to go?”
“I want to be a part of this special group,” Sharp added. “The manager has made me a better player and I’m grateful for that. I’m delighted to be a cog in what’s a very special wheel and I’m sure we can have more success in the next few years.”
Now in his third spell with United. Sharp’s game has evolved since graduating from their youth system more than a decade-and-a-half ago. Once known purely as a goalscorer, his link-up play has improved beyond recognition in recent years although he remains the best finisher at the club.
“The way we play, the intensity and the formation, each player has to be ready and give 100 per cent in training,” Sharp said. “The same goes for matches as well and if we’re not 100 per cent, then the manager really lets you know about it.
“My all-round game has come on a bit more, and defensive side of things. But I’m still out there to get on the end of chances and that’s demanding, because you have to be in top condition at this level to get as high up the pitch as possible and perform to the best of your ability.”
“Okay, we didn’t want the break because we were going really well,” Sharp added. “But we’re determined to get back out there and really hit the ground running.
“Everyone here pushes everyone else and that drives you on. That’s been a really important factor behind what we’ve been able to do so far. But we definitely want more. Make no doubt about it.”
Villa were also promoted last season - via the Championship play-offs - but have struggled for results against the country’s biggest and best clubs. They have prepared for this match in 19th, four points off the foot of the table, but Wilder has warned his charges that Dean Smith’s side pose a serious threat to their hopes of closing ground on fourth-placed Chelsea.
“Being on board with the manager’s philosophy, respecting each other and being willing to get a bump on the nose to win - that’s what we’re all about,” Sharp, previously of Scunthorpe, Southampton and Leeds, said. “It’s a team sport and that’s been a really strong point of ours over the last four years.
“We’ve all stuck together and want to achieve something this club has never achieved before.”