Former England striker James Beattie is back at Bramall Lane hoping to secure a long-term deal with his former club after an unhappy time at Rangers. Ian Appleyard reports.
SHEFFIELD United striker James Beattie wants Santa to deliver a return to first-team football over the Christmas and New Year period.
The former England international has still to play for the Blades – nearly a month after starting his second spell at Bramall Lane.
It has been a frustrating time for the 33-year-old who last played for the club almost three years ago this weekend.
Beattie, who has been hindered by a calf injury, made his ‘farewell’ appearance in a Championship game against Charlton Athletic on Sunday December 28, 2008.
He was sold to Stoke City for £3.5m just two weeks later – much to the annoyance of Blades supporters who felt the move signalled a lack of ambition at boardroom level.
Now re-united, if only in the short term, both the player and his club are in need of a lift.
One has been without employment since leaving Scottish club Rangers last summer and the other is seeking to bounce back from the shock of relegation to League One.
“As soon as I left Rangers, (Blades director) Scott McCabe was on the phone asking if there was any chance of a deal,” recalled Beattie. “I decided to take a few weeks out to see my family because I had not spent much time with them while I was up in Scotland.
“I had a few family problems last year and I thought it was right to take a couple of weeks out just to see my kids. That was massively important at that time. But the pull of the game and wanting to play football again is huge. I also think my wife wanted me out of the house.
“We sat down and started talking weeks ago which is when a lot of the rumours started. I had been doing my own running down at Southampton and then spent a few days training with Bournemouth.
“But Danny Wilson (the Blades manager) came over to Manchester to see me. We had a really good chat and he let me know where the club was going and what he wanted from me. It took about 10 minutes. He made his mind up there and then that he wanted me to come. For about half an hour after that we just chatted about football, families, and all the other stuff that goes with it.”
When Beattie last signed for the Blades, they had just been relegated from the Premier League and his £4m move from Everton smashed the club’s previous record transfer fee.
He bagged 22 goals in his first season but the club missed out on the play-offs and sacked manager Bryan Robson.
The following season, despite making a stronger push for promotion, the pressure was mounting financially.
Reflecting on his departure, Beattie said: “It was a shock, a massive shock, when Kevin McCabe (the Blades chairman) pulled me into the office and said ‘I’m going to have to sell you.’ I said ‘Why, when we are going for promotion?’
“It was one of those decisions in football that was out of my hands and I just had to go along with it,” he insisted. “Although disappointed, it was still a great opportunity for me to go back into the Premier League. As it turned out, it was a good move and I was a great acquisition for Stoke. But I attended the play-off final (when the Blades lost to Burnley) and it was disappointing that we didn’t go up.”
Beattie scored seven goals to help keep Stoke in the top flight but was involved in a dressing room bust-up with manager Tony Pulis the following season. He signed for Rangers on a free transfer but spent the last few months of last season on loan at Blackpool.
“I have not really played on a consistent basis for two years now due to one reason or another,” he reflected. “But I am delighted to be back with the opportunity to pull on the United shirt again.
“I always say to people that my first spell was one of the happiest times of my career. At the time, I was desperate to stay in the Premier League with Everton and the decision to step down to the Championship was a big one but I enjoyed it immensely. That was down to me doing well on the pitch and the club treating me how they did, the fans and everything. It was a good time and I want to try and get those good times back.
“Obviously, the club is in a different league now. There have been changes in personnel but the training ground is the same and the enthusiasm to do well is still there.
“My return has created a bit of a buzz, the fans have been singing my name, and it has given people a lift – but with that comes a responsibility for me to produce the goods. Naturally, there is only one person who can meet that expectaion and I welcome the challenge.
“It’s been a while but I am sure the goals will come again,” he said. “The lads create a lot of chances and if a couple come my way, I would back myself to score.”
Whether Beattie will be available for next Tuesday’s league game against Notts County depends just how quickly he recovers from the calf injury suffered two weeks ago in training.
“The gaffer has put the brakes on me and taken a far more sensible approach,” he said. “He doesn’t want me to come in and get injured even though I am trying to push it to change his mind.
“We have both been in football a long time and the sensible thing is to get conditioned before you go into any sort of matches. It will be running and then a few reserve games before stepping up to the subs bench or whatever the gaffer decides.
“I don’t know what the future holds at this stage,” he admitted. “It is a short-term deal but, if things go well, the gaffer says that he would like to keep me and I would be interested in staying until the end of the season at least.
“I have already been shopping a few times at Meadowhall and been approached by fans saying they are happy to see me. But now I just want to get back out on the pitch.”