The for­mer Leeds and Rother­ham boss on the rise of Sh­effield United

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - Neil Redfearn

WHEN Leeds lost 2-1 to Sh­effield United at the end of Oc­to­ber, I said that any­one who fin­ished above the Blades would win pro­mo­tion.

Noth­ing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. They are the best side I’ve seen at El­land Road and the best side I’ve seen in the Cham­pi­onship.

For­get all this stuff about con­fi­dence and mo­men­tum. They’re ad­ven­tur­ous. There’s no fear in how they play. Their en­ergy lev­els are out of this world.

I watch Leeds reg­u­larly and, for me, that’s what makes them an in­fe­rior team. When they haven’t got the ball, they haven’t got enough play­ers who want it back.


At Blades, they all think like that and I mean right from the front. For Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp, there’s no such thing as a bad ball. They chase ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing. But it’s not just en­ergy – they do it with brains. They pen back fours down one side, then cut off the out ball.

Sh­effield United ac­tu­ally re­mind me very much of the Barns­ley side I played in that won pro­mo­tion un­der Danny Wil­son in 1997. If you came to play, we’d pass it around and out foot­ball you. But if you came to scrap, we’d scrap with you. We had the lot – and so do United.

I first came up against Chris Wilder a decade ago, when he was in charge at Hal­i­fax and I was at Scar­bor­ough.

Even then, his sides al­ways worked harder than the op­po­si­tion. They could all play. And he had this knack of turn­ing un­wanted, halfde­cent play­ers into qual­ity foot­ballers.

Look at Clarke. Ev­ery­body’s had him. No­body’s got the best out of him. Now, he’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.

Billy has al­ways been a top-class pro, but Chris has eked a lit­tle bit ex­tra out. Then there’s lads like Chris Basham and Paul Coutts they’ve been around for years but sud­denly look at the peak of their pow­ers. For me, though, the big­gest rev­e­la­tion has been Mark Duffy. He’s got a man­ager’s head on a player’s shoul­ders.

He un­der­stands his role. He’s very clever. He cuts the pass­ing lines off for the op­po­si­tion but he also gets in and around peo­ple.

He’s a throw­back to how a mid­fielder should play. He doesn’t just pro­tect his back four and keep ev­ery­thing safe. He goes af­ter peo­ple. And the big­gest thing of all is the kid can play – his range of pass­ing is in­cred­i­ble.

At 32, he’s a great ex­am­ple of a late de­vel­oper. Some­times, you can get to 26-27 be­fore the penny drops. Only then do you start un­der­stand­ing the game, your own body, what you’re ca­pa­ble of and what you aren’t. The di­vi­sion it­self.

You start notic­ing things. For in­stance, you pick the ball up in the Cham­pi­onship and you’re un­der pres­sure. Pick the ball up in the Pre­mier League and there’s no­body to pass to be­cause ev­ery­one’s marked. Subtleties like that take time to learn.


It hap­pened to Jonathan Hogg at Hud­der­s­field last year. He was an av­er­age mid­field player – a steady ed­die who never had a shocker but never won you a game. Then bang! Class act.

I was sim­i­lar. I played the vast ma­jor­ity of my ca­reer at Cham­pi­onship level and I was no more than a ‘good’ player at that level. Then I went to Barns­ley in my late twen­ties, grad­u­ally un­der­stood my po­si­tion and got more re­laxed and con­fi­dent in my own skin. Af­ter that, I kicked on.

Chris has got a lot of play­ers there at that stage in their ca­reers and, to be quite hon­est, it gives them a huge ad­van­tage.

The di­vi­sion is in flux. There’s a lot of over­seas in­vest­ment, a lot of over­seas play­ers. And those peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the level – yet.

In time, they will. But right now, be­ing a Bri­tish-based man­ager with ex­pe­ri­enced Bri­tish play­ers al­lows a club to cap­i­talise. They are ripe for pro­mo­tion.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

REV­E­LA­TION: Sh­effield United’s Mark Duffy cel­e­brates scor­ing against Sh­effield Wed­nes­day

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