DONCASTER Rovers striker Billy Sharp last night confirmed his desire to join a Premier League club but pledged ‘110 per cent’ commitment in the interim period.
With only four games to go before the opening of the New Year transfer window, Sharp’s return to form has sparked a scramble for his signature.
Five goals in the last six games have added West Bromwich Albion, Wolves, and Stoke City to a list of suitors which already included Southampton and Ipswich Town.
Amid the on-going speculation, the former Shefield United striker, 25, is also dealing with the tragic loss of his newborn son. Remarkably, he has managed to separate the personal from the professional and enhanced his growing reputation in the game.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Birmingham City, Sharp said: “I am glad the speculation is there – if it wasn’t, it would mean I wasn’t scoring goals – but I will not be going anywhere yet because the window is not open.
“Until the next window opens, there will be more speculation but I’m going to give it 110 per cent for Doncaster until I am told otherwise. Hopefully, I will keep scoring goals and a Premiership team will come in.”
Sharp’s £1.1m arrival on a three-year deal two summers ago smashed the club’s transfer record yet his departure would probably generate nearly three times that amount. Southampton offered £3.25m for his services last summer, while Ipswich lodged a bid of £2.8m, which also included Rovers winger James Coppinger.
For a club that is currently raising eyebrows by signing big-name players on low-cost deals, the sale would help balance the books. For Sharp, it would be reward for bagging 107 goals in just 204 league games.
Whatever happens in the future, however, it will be the loss of two-day-old son Luey Jacob that will forever dominate Sharp’s memories of the current season.
“I am never going to forget it,” he reflected. “When it first happened, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I wanted to get back into football.
“It could have gone the other way, it could have been not so good and I could have been feeling sorry for myself and down, but that’s not the person I am. I am positive and wanted to get on with things. It’s my job at the end of the day. It’s happened to other people and it will happen to other people in the future.
“Considering what’s happened, I have had a tough few weeks but I’ve managed to keep my head on and get my goals which has kept a smile on my face. I had to use football to my benefit and it’s helped me out massively just being round the boys.”
Sharp had insisted on playing for Rovers in a Championship game against Middlesbrough just three days after his son passed away. There was a minute’s applause before the game and, after scoring the opening goal, Sharp lifted his shirt to reveal a message reading ‘That’s For You Son.’
“Football has really helped and the support has been amazing,” he said. “I can’t thank people enough for the support they have shown. It has helped me a lot. I am confident going into every game at the minute and, if I get a chance, I think I will put it away.”
Sharp’s performances are fully expected to secure him the Championship Player of the Month Award when the winners are announced this morning.
His goals have also lifted Rovers off the foot of the Championship table and another three points tomorrow would add to the optimism generated by a shock victory against leaders Southampton last weekend.
“I am sure we can get out of trouble this season,” he added. “We just have to pick up our home form. If we do that, we will definitely stay up.”
Following tomorrow’s game at Birmingham, Rovers play Leicester, Burnley, and Watford before the New Year transfer window.
On whether these fixtures might offer the opportunity to sign off in style, Sharp said: “It’s not about me, it’s about the team. We are second-from-bottom and I’m just a cog in the team helping to get out of the bottom three. The sooner we get out of the bottom three the better.
“We have not won back-to-back games this season so it would be nice to get that on Saturday,” he added. “Football is all about confidence and we have not had much of it because we have been losing games. But if we win on Saturday people will think ‘We’ve just beaten Southampton and Birmingham – so now we can win a lot more games.’”
Rovers manager Dean Saunders will open talks with Senegalese international El-Hadji Diouf today aimed at extending his stay with the club until the end of the season.
The former Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers striker, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, initially signed a deal until January.
Senegalese international defender Lamine Diatta is still seeking international clearance in order to make his debut for Rovers this weekend. The former Newcastle United player, 36, spent last season playing in Qatar.