GROWING up as a Blades fan in his native Sheffield, Billy Sharp knew he was not supposed to look towards Leeds United with anything but disdain.
This is just how it is down Bramall Lane way, where only Steel City rivals Wednesday receive a hotter reception when entering S2.
Sharp, though, was different, the then teenager enjoying how David O’Leary’s side cut a swathe through Europe around the turn of the Millennium as Leeds reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and UEFA Cup in consecutive seasons.
Which is why the 28-year-old was so pleased by the turn of events this week that has seen him move to Elland Road from Southampton on a two-year contract for an undisclosed fee.
“Everyone knows I am a Sheffield United fan,” said Sharp to The Yorkshire Post ahead of tomorrow’s all-Yorkshire clash with Middlesbrough. “But, for some reason, even though Sheffield United fans are supposed to hate Leeds United, I always had a soft spot for them.
“I have always wanted to play for Leeds. I am not saying that just because I am here now, I honestly mean it.
“Leeds were in the Champions League and fun to watch so whenever I have played at Elland Road, it has always been a special place to play. It is great to think that this is now a chance for me to play there every week.”
Sharp’s move, if you believe the speculation, has been many years in the making.
First linked with a potential switch to Elland Road during his two years at Scunthorpe United, the Sheffield-born striker’s name has been conjoined with United’s in every subsequent transfer window. Or at least that is how it has felt for both Leeds fans and Sharp himself.
“There has been speculation for a few years about a move and each time I would get excited about joining,” he said. “But then it never really happened and I never had the chance to decide or not.
“I thought it was going to be the same this summer. I heard Leeds were interested early on but then nothing came of it.
“Then, though, at the start of the week, it came up again and, thankfully, we were able to nudge it over the line this time.”
Sharp is one of three new arrivals at Elland Road this week with former Hull City trainee Liam Cooper having joined from Chesterfield in a £600,000 deal along with Giuseppe Bellusci, the Italian defender having signed on loan for the season.
Further additions are also in the pipeline with Rotherham United manager Steve Evans confirming yesterday that Leeds have enquired about Kieran Agard.
Asked about the future of last season’s 26-goal top scorer at the New York Stadium, the Scot replied: “Leeds have expressed an interest, (but) there has not been a formal bid from them.
“Bristol City have had a bid refused but they are not alone; there has been other clubs who have tried to keep their business out of the media.”
Whether Agard, who is in the final year of his Rotherham contract, can be brought north up the M1 remains to be seen, but spirits at Elland Road have undoubtedly been lifted by this week’s flurry of new arrivals. For Sharp, meanwhile, a return to Yorkshire offers stability and a chance to revive a career that has rather lost its way over the past couple of seasons.
“I have had too many clubs over the last few years and I now want to settle down,” said the striker, who joined Southampton for £1.8m. “Age-wise, this should be the prime of my career but the last couple of seasons have been disappointing.
“I played 20 games last season and 20 games the year before. So, I have played football but nowhere near enough.
“That said, I told the gaffer (Dave Hockaday, Leeds’s head coach) I have been training and playing through the summer, and that I have not missed a session. I feel ready.
“My missus will be happy (about the move), too. She has been on my back asking, ‘Where are we going to be next week?’ Now I am at Leeds, I can get my head down and play. “
Sharp’s return to the Broad Acres comes just a few months after his last spell in the county with Doncaster Rovers, a club where he excelled earlier in his career. Despite the fanfare that greeted his return to the Keepmoat, Sharp netted just four goals in 12 appearances as Rovers slipped out of the Championship.
“That was my own fault,” said Sharp when asked about his four months with Doncaster. “I have to hold my hands up.
“The sending-off maybe wasn’t a sending-off (at Brighton in February), but it didn’t help me.
“I was out for three games suspended, which was three Saturdays.
“Sometimes you can get away with it when it’s Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. It goes in a week,” he said.
“I didn’t play the last three games (due to injury), either, which was disappointing.
“But that is gone now and I want to look forward.”