Why Bramall Lane's very own captain, leader and legend must not lose his influence: James Shield's Sheffield United Column
It is often said that Chelsea's grip on English football was weakened when John Terry, Frank Lampard and to a lesser extent Didier Drogba left Stamford Bridge for pastures new.
Forgive my foray into the machinations of London football because, in this instance, I happen to think it is relevant.
Because, it will not have escaped your notice that Billy Sharp, Sheffield United’s very own captain, leader and legend, has started four of their last five Championship fixtures on the bench.
Something which, even two months ago, would have seemed impossible let alone improbable given his goalscoring exploits since returning to the team he has supported since childhood in the summer of 2015.
Admittedly, I’m not a manager. Nor, supporters up and down the country will be relieved to learn, am I ever likely to become one unless a struggling Sunday League outfit has a suitable vacancy.
But, even though Chris Wilder clearly needs no advice from the likes of me on how to run a successful squad, I admit to being surprised when Sharp failed to appear during last week’s derby against Sheffield Wednesday.
Both the game and the situation, especially given the fact he missed September’s visit to Hillsborough through injury, appeared ideally suited to a player of his personality and talents as it crept anxiously towards a draw.
The centre-forward’s presence on the pitch alone would have eked a few extra decibels from the home crowd and, as a direct consequence, ratcheted-up the psychological pressure on Jos Luhukay’s men.
Plus, even taking the excellent Leon Clarke into account, he would still be the player I would bet most heavily on converting a chance had one presented itself during the closing stages.
Wilder, who has the benefit of watching training and gauging his squad’s mindset before naming a starting eleven, clearly feels Clayton Donaldson deserves to partner Clarke at this moment in time. Who am I, taking his knowledge and tactical nous into consideration, to argue? But Sharp remains a key figure at Bramall Lane; both on the pitch and behind the scenes.
Although they possess plenty of quality, something Wilder believes is overlooked far too often when critics are assessing his team, United’s greatest strength is their spirit, character and work ethic.
Qualities which, given the fact his loyalty and love for the club is beyond question, Sharp will demand from his colleagues. Terry and Lampard provided a similar guarantee of high-standards in SW6 before being, ridiculously, allowed to walk through the exit door.
Chelsea’s lack of consistency since underlines the fact that, while all players are equal, some are more equal and important than others.
Sharp, through his actions and words, falls into the same category. Even though, as his counterparts in the capital discovered, status does not necessarily influence selection policy.