If you want to know how good Jay McEveley can be, just ask Charlie Austin, writes James Shield.
The Queens Park Rangers centre-forward, whose valuation in the transfer market is estimated to be around £15m, failed to escape his clutches when Sheffield United scored an emphatic FA Cup victory at Loftus Road seven months ago.
McEveley’s performance that afternoon was instrumental. Not least because, as well as nullifying the threat posed by Austin, he helped keep fellow defender Terry Kennedy in check. It is precisely that ability to juggle a variety of tasks which convinced Nigel Adkins to install McEveley as his captain.
“Terry is a great player but, because he’s young, there would be times when he’d edge a little bit out of position,” the former Swindon Town defender reflects. “And I’d tell him ‘come back here’ or ‘get in there.’
“That really works for me, it makes me feel better when I can see that picture in my head. I feel like I’ve helped someone on the pitch and helped the team. It gives me a real buzz.”
McEveley admitted to being “proud, extremely proud in fact,” when his appointment was announced on the eve of the new League One season. Adkins presented the defender as an obvious choice to succeed the now departed Michael Doyle. But, it is fair to say, his opinion, despite being based upon solid evidence, was not shared by all.
Some observers, ignoring the manager’s assertion that McEveley would thrive upon the extra responsibility, cited Chris Basham, Mark Howard or Neill Collins as their preferred candidates. Adkins, his assistant Andy Crosby and first team coach Dean Wilkins, though, appreciate McEveley’s cerebral edge.
“I’m a big thinker about the game, yes,” he admits. “Especially over the last few years, I’ve changed quite a lot in that regard.
“Dean was saying to me, once you’ve done your badges, you start looking at the game in a different light. Before that, you tend to just go out and play. Now, I don’t. You understand and realise situations as they develop a lot more.”
McEveley’s thirst for knowledge is demonstrated by the fact that, despite being only 30 years of age, he has already begun studying for his coaching badges.
“I’ve done my UEFA B so I’ve got a few more to go. To any young player coming through now, I’d say do your badges early, definitely.
“They do Level Two in the academies now which is good. But I’d definitely encourage them to carry on, do the rest as soon as they can, because it’s a huge help. It opens your eyes, it really does.”
McEveley, who joined United after leaving the County Ground last summer, has played under a variety of coaches during a career spanning 13 years and 10 different clubs including Blackburn Rovers and Derby County. Adkins and his trusted lieutenants, he insists, are among the very best.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the manager, Dean and Cros. They’ve got so much information and the things they’ve taught us in such a short space of time is remarkable really.
“And, on top of that, the great thing is we know they’ve got so much more knowledge to pass on.
“You’ve got to be mentally stimulated to be at your best. Yes, you’ve got to be fit but you’ve got to enjoy it too.
“These three, you listen to them. It’s not monotonous or boring. It’s not all ‘You stand here and you stand there.’ They make the sessions really interesting and explain everything about what’s going on.”
United, last term’s beaten play-off semi-finalists, play their first home game under Adkins’ tutelage when Chesterfield visit Bramall Lane tomorrow.
“We’ll need clear minds at all times,” McEveley warns. “Those 20 minutes spells in a game, where we used to let the opposition in, they can’t happen this year.
“We set us to attack and penetrate. We want to score goals and entertain. But, when we haven’t got the ball we’ve got to condense the pitch and make it as small as possible. When we are in possession, the opposite is the aim. We want to make it big.”
McEveley is adamant that, rather than causing a distraction, being named captain will have a positive effect upon his own performances as United attempt to end their four year exile from the Championship.
“First and foremost, I’ve got to look after my own performances. But I also enjoy helping others, during matches, during and after training and in the dressing room too. If I can do that, then I will.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know there will be times when it’s not going well for me and I need to get my head sorted. But I’ve always been vocal on the pitch and, helping others, actually helps me to stay focused and settle down.
“It’s something I enjoy and want to do anyway. But, the great thing is, there’s a personal benefit from it too.”
Adkins’ reign endured an inauspicious start when United were beaten 4-0 by Gillingham six days ago before advancing into the second round of the Capital One Cup after beating Morecambe.
“We’ve got some good characters here,” McEveley said. “There’s a good mix of young and old but the one thing everybody has got in common is the desire to get us up. To get this club to where we think it should be.
“You don’t get given anything for free, especially in this league, you’ve got to earn it. But there are the right characters here to do that.”