Jack O’Connell would not call it a revenge mission.
After all, his move from Brentford to Sheffield United has worked out for the best.
But, 13 months and a League One title since leaving Griffin Park, the defender is still planning to make a statement when his former club visits South Yorkshire on the opening weekend of the new Championship campaign.
“I’ve got a point to prove, obviously, because I didn’t play there as much as I would have liked,” O’Connell admitted. “But I’m here now and I don’t regret a thing because it’s an honour to be a Blade. I’m delighted with how things have gone on and off the pitch.”
Tomorrow’s match, United’s first in the second tier of English football for over six years, will be an emotional occasion for Chris Wilder’s side. Pitting a team fancied to challenge for the top six against another which last tasted defeat in January, it contains plenty of intriguing sub-plots too. Discovering how United plan to nullify the threat posed by José Ignacio Peleteiro Ramallo, otherwise known as Jota, will certainly be fascinating. But the most compelling exercise could be watching how O’Connell compares to John Egan; the former United loanee whose presence in west London persuaded Dean Smith to let the Liverpudlian go.
Wilder, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy yesterday, cited O’Connell’s mental strength as one of his greatest assets.
Reflecting on United’s poor start to the previous campaign - they were bottom of the table after four games - he said: “Jack has taken his confidence from a fantastic season. I’ve got a lot of time for Jack, and respect, for showing what a proper footballer is all about after the start he made.
“It doesn’t always go well and it certainly didn’t for Jack to begin with in the first four games. But for him to come through that was great for him and shows what he’s all about. He’s a popular player with the supporters. That was a key time for him. Does he go under? Does he come through? He came through.”
Egan has demonstrated similar character traits; overcoming a family tragedy and being forced to resurrect his career after released by Sunderland two years after his brief spell in South Yorkshire.
Wilder, admitting O’Connell’s resourcefulness could prove a valuable asset over the coming months, added: “The sun isn’t always going to be shining, for supporters, players and everybody,” Wilder added But how you deal with it is key and if everybody has the same attitude as Jack we won’t go far wrong. To come back in front of 20,000 odd thousand, in one of the biggest pressure situations this club has had for a long time. I’m not kidding about that. Six years was too long. Seven years would have been the same.”
O’Connell featured 18 times for Brentford after being signed by Smith’s predecessor Mark Warburton. But he has proved to be one of Wilder’s most astute purchases and, having emerged as a respected figure in the dressing room, is viewed as a future United captain. O’Connell, who moved to Spain as a youngster before returning to the North-West, demonstrated his leadership qualities during warm-weather training in Marbella last month.
“My mum just decided to move over for a change,” O’Connell explains. “I went to a Spanish school which was scary at first but we adapted pretty quick. I used to speak Spanish, I’ve forgotten it all now though. Apart from when we were in a taxi the other day, I used it then because we were struggling to make ourselves understood. I took charge of things, Well, sort of anyway.”
“It was very hard over there in the heat but it’s all stuff that goes into the bank fitness wise,” he added. “So that makes it worthwhile. Everyone has settled in and there are some good players who have come in. Going away together was great and they showed themselves to be great blokes too.”