SOMETIMES, life is full of pleasant surprises.
Just ask Sheffield United utility man Kieron Freeman.
Few can vouch for the slings and arrows of footballing fortune as much as he can during a fluctuating 2016.
Placed on the transfer list in the summer by Chris Wilder, you would have got long odds on the Nottingham-born player having any semblance of a future at S2 as the Blades chief got to work on a squad overhaul.
It was all power to Freeman that instead of bleating and bemoaning his lot, he knuckled down, refused to feel sorry for himself and set about showing Wilder that he would fight to change his mind.
Crucially, Freeman backed his words with deeds and displayed just the sort of character that Wilder puts great stock in.
The 24-year-old’s renaissance is such that he now finds himself as an integral part of a Blades line-up that is starting to forget what it feels like to lose.
Freeman, who ended last season on loan at Portsmouth, is thankful to Wilder for offering him a second chance, while being determined to continue to vindicate that faith in the weeks and months ahead.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “I feel like I have got a second chance.
“I never wanted to leave here and never said: ‘I hate it here and it’s horrible.’
“The only reason I have gone anywhere else is to get fit and play some games.
“When I heard the gaffer had got the job here, I was buzzing.
“But then I found out I was on the transfer list, and thought: ‘oh no’.
“I then decided to show him what he was missing and then luckily, he gave me my chance.
“Full respect to him for that and from speaking to me knowing he might not have done that, he was great and I am really enjoying it.
“I could not have asked for any more and he was great.
“Some people would not be like that and he is up there with the best managers I have worked with, by far.
“He is bang on with everything and I think you can tell that with the team that he has built.”
The barometer of a vibrant side in rude health can invariably be seen on a daily basis at any training ground when the wisecracks and banter flows.
Go down to the Blades’ training ground at Shirecliffe and you will see plenty of that, with fun back on the menu, according to Freeman.
He added: “Everyone knows the gaffer’s passion for the club and I think it is more of a fun place (now).
“The gaffer knows that off the pitch, we have a laugh and are a team and mates as well. But on the pitch, we do our jobs and work on things we need to work on.
“I think it is a great blend at the minute and we are doing well.”
Attention switches this weekend to FA Cup matters for the Blades and a home tie with Leyton Orient, with Wilder – like every other lower-division manager worth his salt – earmarking a run to the new year to land one of the ‘big boys’.
The Blades hauled in arguably the biggest fish of all last January by way of a dream third-round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford, although the day was somewhat bitter-sweet for Freeman, who was ‘bombed’ for that game – in his own words.
It summed up Freeman’s pretty luckless experiences in cup competitions during his career thus far – and he would dearly love that to change.
He added: “It would be nice to have a cup run and play. Last year, I played in the Worcester game and scored, but missed the Manchester United game and was bombed.
“It was tough, as I would have loved to have played, but what can you do?
“I also missed a Chelsea cup game with Derby when I wasn’t picked. I was on loan, but was called back for that game and sat on the bench.
“I did get Juan Mata’s shirt though and it was all right – he was a nice guy.
“In the FA Cup run to the semi-finals here, I was part of it, but didn’t play and was on the bench against Hull and signed (full-time) on the day we played Tottenham (in the Capital One Cup semi-final in 2015).
“I didn’t get to play, but I was on the bench for the game and with the boys and the atmosphere was brilliant.
“Seeing it all was unbelievable. I walked around at the end and felt like I had played and yet I didn’t play a minute.
“Just walking around and being in the dressing room was great and when we played at Wembley, it was a special day, even though I was on the bench.”
Like Freeman, Wilder had a watching brief on the Wembley date against Hull City in the FA Cup semi-final in April 2014 – with the Blades chief one of thousands of Unitedities who were roaring on their side in that famous all-Yorkshire last-four encounter, while also being present in the earlier rounds of the competition.
Now managing at his boyhood club, Wilder is the first to admit he would dearly love to sample some cup marquee occasions of that ilk.
He added: “I went to the cup games under Nigel Clough and against Charlton and (Nottingham) Forest, the atmosphere was brilliant.
“I went to them as a supporter and I would love to be involved in games like that as a manager and lead my team out there and pit ourselves against top clubs in the country.”