Given that he plays for and captains the club he has supported since childhood, Billy Sharp was probably the wrong person to ask.
But, when the question was posed, Sheffield United’s iconic centre-forward did his best to answer it anyway.
“Is everything that goes on during a transfer window unsettling? Not for me personally,” he said. “That’s because I’m happy playing for my team, the one I’ve always followed and being here at Bramall Lane. But there have been times, yes, when I’ve been elsewhere, someone has come in for me and I thought ‘I’d quite fancy a bit of that.’”
One such instance, although Sharp did not admit it, was when United first signalled their intention to sign him from Leeds just over a year-and-a-half ago. Concerned a combination of Elland Road asking price and Uwe Rösler’s intransigence might scupper the deal, he personally intervened to force through the move after holding talks with the German and his chairman Massimo Cellino. Nineteen months and nearly 40 goals later, Sharp’s position as the most influential member of United squad is beyond dispute. Not least because, after being awarded the captaincy following Chris Wilder’s appointment in May, he also had the responsibility of ensuring his team mates adopted the same nonchalant attitude towards the shenanigans of the past five weeks.
“It’s never really affected anything or anyone here because we all know, whoever comes in, is only going to make us stronger,” Sharp said. “Everybody, whether they care to admit it or not, looks to see who their side is getting linked with. You do keep on eye on who goes where and think ‘that’s a good move’ or ‘he’s really landed on his feet.’ But everybody we’ve been linked with, the manager has brought in. So that means there’s been little or no fuss which is great.”
Clinical, combative and 100 per cent committed to the cause, Sharp is Wilder’s kind of player. Indeed, if the United manager could clone his genes, he would probably sign 10 more. “Billy’s got bottle, he leads from the front and does exactly what his job is,” he said earlier this term. “Basically, what every manager wants.”
Thankfully football has yet to embrace such methods and so United, who enter tomorrow’s game against AFC Wimbledon second in League One, are better equipped to cope with a 46 match campaign. Sharp is one of six strikers at Wilder’s disposal ahead of the meeting with Neal Ardley’s side and, following James Hanson’s arrival from Bradford City last week, all bring something different to the table too.
“We’ve all got different qualities,” Sharp continued. “And that’s exactly how the gaffer planned it. Caolan (Lavery) was a little bit frustrated at the start of the season but the staff worked with him, he got stronger and stronger fitness wise, and his confidence is good. Sparky (Marc McNulty) has come back and he’s a really good player too. He’s been successful here in the past and he’s hungry to do it again. So that’s another good decision by the gaffer there.”
While Wilder chooses who is Sharp’s best partner - the smart money is on Hanson getting the nod ahead of others including Leon Clarke and Matt Done - Sharp is dividing his time between preparing for matches and ensuring his younger colleagues are equipped to perform as well. Fast approaching his 31st birthday, regular visitors to the Steelphalt Academy will remember Sharp being in a state of near panic when he approached the Big 3/0. But, after passing the landmark, Sharp is now revelling in his status as one of United’s senior citizens.
“I feel really old now,” he said. “Joking aside, it’s just a number to me as long as I stay fit and healthy. The younger lads always tell me I’ve been around the block a fair bit but hopefully I can pass some of that experience on. As long as I’m here and I’m scoring goals then I’ll be happy.”
Sharp, who has claimed 18 so far this season, is now in his third spell with United after being lured away from Elland Road by Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Adkins. Although they have failed to win any of their last three outings, the 49-year-old’s squad is in much better shape than the one which limped to an 11th placed finish under the former Scunthorpe and Southampton chief last term. Explaining why, Sharp revealed the secrets behind United’s revival.
“I believed we could do it last year but, looking back, we were nowhere near good enough,” he said. “This year, you can see people wanting to win even on the training ground and that’s where everything starts. We’ve got stronger as a team, there’s much more belief. The training levels are high and we don’t dip in and out.”
United beat AFC Wimbledon 3-2 when the two sides met at Kingsmeadow five months ago with Done, Mark Duffy and of course Sharp netting for the visitors. Ardley’s charges kicked-off that match hoping to record a third successive win but make the journey north this evening ranked 13th having won only once in seven outings. United could award debuts to Hanson and his fellow new arrivals Jay O’Shea and Joe Riley while Samir Carruthers, previously of MK Dons, has recovered from injury.
“The gaffer has given us a lot of leadership,” Sharp said. “He’s also put a lot of leadership into the team and I think that’s shown out on the pitch. We’ve had a bit of a blip but that mentality means you can regroup and put it behind you rather than keep looking back.”