Stevie May has stoked the fires of local rivalry by admitting that Sheffield Wednesday’s late bid turned his attentions away from Rotherham United.
The 21-year-old Scottish striker was unveiled at the Owls’ training ground at Middlewood yesterday just 48 hours after signing a four-year deal at Hillsborough.
May had been a long-time target of Wednesday’s South Yorkshire neighbours Rotherham, with the Millers having bids rejected by his then-employers St Johnstone as long ago as last summer.
He was all set to conclude talks with Rotherham manager Steve Evans last week before news of Wednesday’s interest turned his head.
“Just before I was about to fly down I got the news that Wednesday had had an offer accepted, so although I was flying down to speak to Rotherham I had it in the back of my mind that hopefully there would be another few bids,” said May, who scored 27 goals in all competitions in Scotland last season.
“I went to Rotherham first to have a look around and then had a look around here (Sheffield Wednesday) and it wasn’t a hard decision.
“It’s hard to explain, but I felt right at home straight away and I could see myself playing here.
“I spoke to a lot of people – my parents, people who had played here before – and they all said the same thing – ‘Whatever feels right, just go for that’.
“I knew of Rotherham’s interest at the start of last season but you just put that to the back of your mind.
“I was always looking to come down here when the time was right and I felt that time was now.”
Evans is understood to have been angered by the collapse of his bid to take May to the New York Stadium.
He has long been an admirer of the Scotland Under-21 international, and was always very public about his interest in the player.
But Owls manager Stuart Gray insists he too had been a long-term fan of the Scottish Premier League forward.
“He’d been on the radar probably the last six months. We just kept noticing he was scoring goals,” said Gray, who has spent £800,000 on the player.
“We had him watched and the thing that came back from the reports was his team ethic, as well as his ability. He’s something a little bit different to what we’ve got.
“We were always in contact with St Johnstone. When we found out there were other bids in that’s when we made the move.
“It just coincided with Michail Antonio going (to Nottingham Forest), but that enabled us to go in.
“That’s what happens with transfers; some can happen over weeks and months, some can happen over a matter of hours. You don’t have to sell Sheffield Wednesday, just look at what we took on Saturday (to Brighton), 2,600 fans.
“It helped having (former Owls striker) Steve MacLean pushing him this way but the important thing is he came here and got a nice feel for meeting me and seeing the stadium.
“Stevie knows he’s made the right decision.”
The decision made by Wednesday to spend £800,000 is one that bucks the trend of recent seasons, when they were a club only able to recruit through the loan market.
The sale of Antonio to Forest for £1.5m provided capital to join the chase for May and Gray hopes the rest of that cash will be put into strengthening further a squad that began the Championship season with a 1-0 win at Brighton.
May’s price tag and his reputation as a player who can score 20 goals a season will bring an expectation to deliver, a pressure that is welcomed by both manager and player.
May said: “The goals are the same size, it’s about me sticking the ball away.
“I’m always confident in scoring goals. It will be a step up from what I know and I just want to improve my game and add to it.”
Gray – who confirmed his interest in Leicester forward Chris Wood and Blackburn winger Ben Marshall – said: “I’ve added to the pressure by saying I want to bring a 20-goal a season striker in and he’s proven that.
“He scores goals in abundance, but we need to create chances for him.”
Gray would not commit to the extent of May’s role tonight against League One side Notts County in the Capital One Cup.
It is a competition Gray is taking seriously, with the exploits of Bradford City in reaching the final in 2013, and Sheffield United the FA Cup semi-final last season, giving clubs outside the Premier League a dream to believe in.
“It just shows that if you turn up with the right attitude and application you can achieve things,” said Gray.
Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday DWLLLW, Notts County WLWWDD.
Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 2 Notts County 1; August 20, 2011; League One.
Referee: E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).