Sheffield United defender Kieron Freeman returns to former club Derby County today on top of the world.
Life is good for the 26-year-old with the Blades proudly sitting top of the Championship and him fresh from his first taste of international football with Wales.
Freeman is one of several players to have blossomed under Blades manager Chris Wilder and it is all a far cry from four years ago when he was handed a free transfer by the Rams.
Now the full-back is a key player in a Blades team who navigated their way to the summit of the Championship after the opening 12 games.
It was enough for Wales manager Ryan Giggs to give Freeman his first call-up to the senior international squad.
While he did not feature in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, Freeman returns to Pride Park today in high spirits.
“It was a good experience,” said Freeman of his Welsh call-up. “I didn’t get on, but it was just nice to be called up and get recognised for how I have been playing at Sheffield United.
“I knew a few of the boys having played with them for the Under-21s, and (David) Brooks is there as well, a few familiar faces.
“It was amazing. I had played a lot of Under-21s games, Under-17s, Under-16s, and it’s been four years since I played for Wales.
“It was just an amazing feeling, and hopefully I will get called up again. Exciting times.
Ryan Giggs is an absolute legend as a player and now he has gone into management. But you can always ask him for advice, he has played at the highest level, and you can learn off him.Kieron Freeman
“He (Giggs) just said, ‘glad to have you on board and show us what you have got’.
“I’m guessing he just wants me to do what I have been doing for Sheffield United. Sometimes Wales play five at the back, I am used to that, and they also play four, which I used to play before the gaffer came in.
“I have been here three or four years, the team hasn’t changed that much. There’s quality players here, but also elsewhere, and it’s nice to see how other people play and how other managers work. You can always learn, you should be like a sponge, picking up little things.
“Ryan Giggs is an absolute legend as a player and now he has gone into management.
“But you can always ask him for advice, he has played at the highest level, and you can learn off him.”
Freeman – who joined Nottingham Forest aged seven – qualifies for Wales via his Welsh grandmother.
But while his family were quite rightly proud he admits it did cause a little bit of disruption.
He said: “I didn’t call anyone (when I got called up), I just copied and pasted the text to my family.
“My partner was in the house with me at the time, and we were planning on going on a spa day, which we had booked, but Giggsy got me out of it,” he smiled. “Luckily they gave us a gift voucher.
“My nanna and that side of my family are Welsh. It was really nice for them to see me getting called up. They are immensely proud.
“The (United) boys have been supportive, although I got a bit of stick this morning as I had my boots in a Wales bag. It’s all fun and games.”
While walking out in front of packed stadiums comes easy for Freeman he admitted to a few nerves when forced to perform his initiation song in front of his new Welsh team-mates.
“It’s scarier than playing, meeting all new faces, introducing yourself, then I had to sing,” he recalled.
“Singing and when you first meet people – I would much rather play a game in front of 60,000.
“I rapped Biggie Smalls’s Juicy, I thought I would change it up, but they enjoyed it, it was a good laugh.”
Freeman’s family are Forest supporters, so he will have a few extra pre-match messages hoping United can beat the Rams team today.
“They are a good team, on form, but so are we,” he said. “It will be a good game.
“Unfortunately I was injured (for last year’s win), but I got a few texts off my dad.
“I always keep my eye out to see how Forest are doing. Obviously I get told by my dad and brother who are season ticket holders at the City Ground.
“They tell me when they are doing well, but I think they are slowly turning into Blades.”
What is certain is Freeman is most definitely an adopted Blade, who feels at home at Bramall Lane.
After a stop-start career taking in Forest, Derby, plus loans spells at the likes of Notts County, Mansfield Town and Portsmouth, Freeman is thriving under Wilder’s management.
“Here I got a chance,” admits Freeman. “At Forest I was their player, but never really got a chance to play. I went on loan to Notts County, but there was only a few months until the end of the season.
“I was at Derby and was on the bench, didn’t get a full run of a season, and the first time I got a run – playing the majority of the games – was the year they went up. The next year I got injured.
“At United I am settled, playing continuously. You progress the more games you play and chances you get.
“I feel like I have had the most chances here, while at other clubs I haven’t had that chance.
“At others clubs I have been the young lad, but I am 26 now and seen as the older player. Getting the chance to play and perform is all I have ever wanted and I have been given that.
“I was injured for eight months with broken ribs and a dislocated knee, but I just had to take my chance when I got it.”
United will be followed by a sell-out away support at Derby as the Blades look for a fifth successive win.
They play the Rams twice in the next dozen games after which Wilder believes the Championship table will have started to take shape.
“It doesn’t come any tougher than Saturday,” said Wilder. “We understand the importance of the next 12 games so we’ll just have to see if we can keep accumulating points.”