Sheffield United: How Chelsea star is inspiring Harrison

For someone who used to support Leeds, it is one hell of an admission.

Friday, 8th April 2016, 6:00 am
Harrison McGahey says defenders must be strong on and off the ball ©2015 Sport Image all rights reserved

But Harrison McGahey will not allow deep-rooted prejudices to prevent him mastering his craft.

“John Terry is definitely the best for me,” says the Sheffield United centre-half. “He’s got everything a modern defender needs. Whenever the ball comes into the box, you just know he’s going to get something on it. He’ll do whatever it takes, even if that means getting hurt.”

Chelsea might be unsure whether Terry is worthy of a new contract after over two decades of sometimes controversial but always committed service at Stamford Bridge. Regardless of how the saga unfolds, however, McGahey will continue to scrutinise the 35-year-old’s performances as he attempts to become a captain, leader and legend in his own right.

“Top defenders, these days, need to be able to do a bit of everything,” McGahey, speaking at United’s Steelphalt Academy training complex, continues. “You’ve got to be as good with your feet as you are with your head.

“That’s why people like John and Ricardo Carvalho are the ones I look up to. They’ve got that balance of being ready to do the ugly stuff, if you like, which as a defender is vital. But they’re also really comfortable on the ball as well.”

Not that McGahey, aged 20, is short of role models at Bramall Lane where, after forcing himself back into first team contention following a fallow four month period, he enters tomorrow’s match against Gillingham having appeared in each of United’s last three games. Jay McEveley, Alex Baptiste and David Edgar provide a rich source of on-the pitch wisdom while off it, the former Blackpool youngster enjoys picking the brains of Andy Crosby; now the League One club’s assistant manager but once an unashamed old school centre-half.

Chelsea's John Terry is Harrison McGahey's favourite player

“I don’t remember Cros playing to be honest. He’s a little bit older than me isn’t he,” McGahey smiles. “But I know he was a good player and he knows his stuff, especially when it comes to this position, clearly. You can tell by looking at him that he was pretty tough.

“The gaffer, Deano (Dean Wilkins) and Cros really help me out. They’re all really good at different things. It’s good, for me anyway, to have someone who has played my position on the staff. I listen to him, obviously, and work on what he’s told me on the training ground. It’s been great, recently, to be able to put that into practice actually in matches. His advice has really helped improve me as a player.”

Mick Rathbone has been a huge help too. Albeit, as McGahey reveals, in a cerebral rather than combative capacity. The former Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers full-back has forged a successful career mentoring young players since retiring in 1995 and, after helping the likes of Dele Alli, Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling fulfil their potential during a spell with England’s youth teams, is now passing on his wisdom to McGahey during regular one-on-one sessions away from Bramall Lane.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work with Mick Rathbone on the psychology side of things as well. It’s helped massively and complements everything else that goes on. It’s not something I’ve ever really done before. My agent, to be honest, was the one who suggested it and I thought why not? It can’t do any harm. In fact, it’s done the exact opposite. I’m really seeing the benefits of it because it keeps me concentrated and focused on what I need to do.”

Andy Crosby, Sheffield United's assistant manager, is also a big influence on McGahey © Blades Sports Photography

As Jose Mourinho once told Arsene Wenger: “If (defending) was easy, he wouldn’t lose 3-1 at home to Monaco.” Nigel Adkins, like his counterpart at the Emirates Stadium, has struggled to strike the right balance between stopping goals and scoring them since taking charge of United 10 months ago with his team, beaten 4-0 by Gillingham on the opening day of the season, conceding well over one per game this term. The recent switch to a back three, however, has gone a long way towards stemming the flow and should, given his attributes, suit McGahey moving forward. Providing, of course, United trigger the 12 month option contained in his present deal.

“It’s not easy to defend,” McGahey explains. “You’ve got to be prepared to do some tough things. You’ve got to stay switched on all the time and be ready to intercept a pass or step in and take the ball. Then, you can look to get it forward or play your own pass.

“In the back three that we’re playing now, you’ve got to stay really compact and let the wing-backs get forward. I think we’ve been playing it well overall. We’ve conceded a few unfortunate goals, some unlucky ones, but in the main it’s been fine.”

One person awaiting news of Adkins’ summer reshuffle, other than McGahey of course, is his colleague and close friend Che Adams.

Harrison McGahey chats with his good friend Che Adams ©2016 Sport Image all rights reserved

“We still live together, yes,” McGahey grins. “It helps having a good mate in the team but, to be fair, I’ve got plenty of those here. We all bond really well together and that helps the team as a whole. Unfortunately, the hoverboard has gone now though. It’s no more.”

Chelsea's John Terry is Harrison McGahey's favourite player
Andy Crosby, Sheffield United's assistant manager, is also a big influence on McGahey © Blades Sports Photography
Harrison McGahey chats with his good friend Che Adams ©2016 Sport Image all rights reserved