Jake Wright leans forward and gives me a look which confirms, no, he is not the least bit surprised to be playing regularly at Championship level.
But the awkward silence only lasts a moment because, the former Halifax Town and Oxford centre-half admits, it is good to talk.
“I’ve always been big on that,” he says, “Talking and organising, even way back when I was doing my YTS. Helping other people out and making sure everybody knows exactly what is going on.”
Wright, as his Sheffield United team mates will admit, has mastered the art of conversation. Indeed, as Jack O’Connell testified before last weekend’s draw with Birmingham City, it is arguably the most effective part of the 31-year-old’s game. Hunkered down in the sparsely furnished office which doubles as the Steelphalt Academy’s media suite, we tackle subjects ranging from the days he found himself scratching out a living in non-league football to the restaurant his brother runs in a fashionable area of London. But it is football, or defending to be precise, which fascinates Wright the most. A discipline which, he explains, becomes a whole lot easier when people learn how to communicate.
“The more I communicate and organise, the less I have to do. It makes my job much more simple. Jack, Bash (Chris Basham) and Cam (Cameron Carter-Vickers) can run all day and do everything. So the more I get them to do the better it is. I just stand there and shout ‘head that, dribble there and pass it here.’ Then it works.”
Of course, there is a whole lot more to Wright than simply barking out orders and keeping colleagues on their toes. Midway though the game against Steve Cotterill’s side, before Leon Clarke scored for the ninth time in four outings to cancel-out Jeremie Boga’s opener, he denied Lukas Jutkiewicz a clear goal-scoring opportunity by slowing the centre-forward’s progress and then seizing possession with a perfectly timed challenge. It was a moment which confirmed Wright, despite his humble beginnings, boasts a telepathic understanding of how former top-flight strikers think.
“I’ve never been blessed with pace so I’ve always had to be strong in terms of reading the game and working out what’s going on,” he smiles. “It’s a side of the game I really enjoy and, hopefully, I’m good at.”
Wright travels to Millwall tomorrow hoping to make his fifth consecutive start for United and 43rd since arriving at Bramall Lane months ago. Although his relationship with Chris Wilder goes someway towards explaining his progress in South Yorkshire - they previously worked together at both the Kassam Stadium and The Shay - even United’s manager acknowledges he is surprised by his protégé’s progress. Wilder, speaking soon after signing Wright for the third time in his career, made no attempt to disguise the fact he had been recruited to provide cover for the likes of O’Connell and Basham. One change of system and promotion later, he makes the journey to the capital as a mainstay of the squad which has climbed to third in the table having won more matches this term than any other club in the division barring second-placed Cardiff and leaders Wolves.
Wright’s presence at the heart of a team which has won an army of admirers for its relentless attacking and whole-hearted approach not only makes a mockery of Oxford’s decision to release him from his contract, but also the flawed thinking behind recruitment models which prioritise proven experience over untapped potential.
“Three quarters of the game is in the head,” Wright continues. “I’ve always believed that. I wouldn’t say I’ve felt it’s easier but I do feel more comfortable at this level than in League Two or the Conference because it’s like basketball there. I’m not suggesting I’ve found my level but I am enjoying matches a lot more rather than just coming off battered and bruised.”
Nevertheless, Wright knows he can not take his place in the starting eleven for granted.
“I’m buzzing with how it’s going but I’m not resting, I can’t sit back and just be happy to be involved. I always want more.
“I always respect the gaffer’s decisions, I’ve worked with him before, but when I was left out at QPR, of course I wasn’t happy, no player is when they don’t play. What was great, though, was that the first person who came across the speak to me was Stears (Richard Stearman) who had effectively come in and taken my place. He’s was seeing if I was okay. It’s nothing personal. That’s how tight we are.
“If you do get left out, for whatever reason, you’ve still got to do your best. When the gaffer changed it after the Wolves game recently, he didn’t hesitate to put me back in because he knew I’d done well before. If I hadn’t, or hadn’t been training well, then he’d have probably gone for someone else.”
Despite being adept at the cerebral side of the game, Wright is still a defender first and foremost.
“I love blocking shots and tackling, that’s what I can do. When I was younger, I played central midfield but it’s wasn’t for me, everyone else was too quick in there. So I stuck to what I was good at. The same way we work at the back, the same way I look at the lads in midfield now. I try to get them on the ball as quickly as possible because they’re better players than me. It’s not a case of sacrificing anything, It’s just playing to my strengths.”
Wright’s self-deprecating assessment of his own talents reveals what makes United, 16 places and 18 points above their latest opponents, such an effective team.
“Others might have better individuals than us,” Wright says. “But we stick to what we are good at and don’t ask people to try and be things they’re not. For us, it’s all about fitting together and the sum of your parts. It’s all about the group.”