SHEFFIELD united manager Chris Wilder is expecting polite applause when Harry Maguire returns to Bramall Lane for the first time since becoming the world’s most expensive defender. Then all-out war for 90 minutes.
Relations between the Uniteds of Manchester and Sheffield have been very cordial in recent years, but once tomorrow’s televised Premier League game kicks off, all that will be forgotten. For a Liverpool fan like Blades midfielder John Lundstram, it will be business as usual.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s loan from Old Trafford to Bramall Lane is the latest link between the clubs, although because of it the 22-year-old will have to watch from the stands, most likely alongside Ravel Morrison, a fellow graduate of the Red Devils’ academy yet to make his mark in South Yorkshire.
Sheffield-born Maguire will be playing against the club who set him on the path to becoming an £80m defender, though.
“I’m sure his name will get a round of applause when it’s read out,” says Wilder. “But he’s an opposition player, by the way. He’s in the enemy camp, with 10 others, for an hour and a half.”
Henderson’s mutually-beneficial second season at Bramall Lane has been further reward for the groundwork Wilder put in since taking over at his boyhood club, and for the guiding hand Sir Alex Ferguson provided to one of the rising stars of English management.
“We felt, when we got into the Championship, we wanted to expand our relationship with all the top clubs,” explains Wilder, “because we felt this was a good place, with pressure and big crowds, for their young players to come (on loan).
“We went over there and had a behind-closed-doors game against them not so long ago. I think our boys were pretty surprised, with the talk about them being in transition.
“Mark Dempsey, who was here (as a midfielder) when I was making my way as a young boy, he’s not been well and so I wish him all the best. He’s been working with (Manchester United manager) Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer, as first-team coach).”
Not that the connections end there. Wilder’s relationship with Ferguson was fostered by Alan Hodgkinson, the Blades’ record appearance-maker in goal.
“He was one of the legends here,” says Wilder. “He was one of the first goalkeeping coaches and helped Sir Alex bring in Peter Schmeichel. Before we go in against Manchester United, I will think of Alan.
“A few times he put me in contact with Sir Alex. The same with Jim Smith and Jim Rosenthal, who did all of his interviews and was someone he could trust.
“There were times when Sir Alex picked up the phone to this young manager. I think that showed the class of the man. There he was winning Premier League titles and he took the time out to help us along the way.
“I even got a call off him the night before the Conference play-off final with Oxford (in 2010).”
Ferguson found time for Maguire, too, telephoning the youngster and sending him a Manchester United shirt after he was knocked unconscious in a clash of heads with Morrison during the 2011 FA Youth Cup final second leg at Old Trafford.
Maguire was playing for Sheffield United, while Morrison scored twice in a trophy-securing 4-1 victory for a young Red Devils side managed by Solskjaer and former Hull City player-manager Warren Joyce.
“They sent me a Man United shirt, and just said, ‘Good luck for the future, you’re a good, promising young player, keep your head down,’ and so on,” recalls Maguire, who also had a spell at Hull. “It was a nice touch and just shows what a classy club United is.”
Despite that the Red Devils will always be the enemy to Merseysider Lundstram, a regular visitor to Anfield with team-mate Jack O’Connell.
“I think this one is extra special,” says Lundstram. “You do look at these games, against some of the biggest teams in the world.
“It will be a full house at Bramall Lane and so who knows what might happen? The manager won’t let us have any fear.
“If we do put in a performance and beat them there will be a lot of happy people in my city. I was listening to a podcast the other day and the people on it were saying, ‘Nobody likes Manchester United unless you actually support them’.
“For any Scouser, the rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool is always a big one. I like it, it comes with football.
“And it’s like our city, where you’re either us or (Sheffield) Wednesday. It’s great and you can never lose that.
“Everyone asks me about the city and I say it is just like ours back home, it’s a working-class city and a real football city. If we get a result I’m sure it would really put us on the map.”