Sheffield United v Peterborough: Morgan Gibbs-White hoping to provide missing piece at Bramall Lane

In the last 18 months, things have not gone as planned for either Morgan Gibbs-White or the Sheffield United squad he has just joined. Today’s game against Peterborough United hopefully represents a bit of a fresh start for both.

The Blades will be hoping August goes down as a phoney war to rank alongside the early weeks of 2016-17 or Slavisa Jokanovic’s first few months at Fulham, neither an indication of the success to follow.

Five Championship matches in, Jokanovic’s new side are waiting for a first win and second goal. Their downward spiral since finishing ninth in the Premier League in July 2020 has been a steep one. Now there are three deadline-day signings (though Covid restrictions could prevent Robin Olsen making his debut in goal today) and with any luck a line in the sand.

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For attacking midfielder Gibbs-White, who joined on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers (“kind of last minute” despite early interest, he tellingly says), it has more been a case of standing still than going backwards, although in top level football the one often equals the other. He feels like his freedom has been inhibited.

Morgan Gibbs-White joined Sheffield United on a season long loan. Picture: Simon Bellis/SportimageMorgan Gibbs-White joined Sheffield United on a season long loan. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Morgan Gibbs-White joined Sheffield United on a season long loan. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

In 2017 Gibbs-White was an Under-17 World Cup winner. Player of the tournament Phil Foden has kicked on since, as have Callum Hudson-Odoi and substitute Conor Gallagher, but golden boot winner Rhian Brewster is still to establish himself as a goalscorer at senior level and many team-mates remain little more than the answers to very difficult trivia questions.

Fourteen months after the final, Gibbs-White marked his full Premier League debut with an assist and a win over Chelsea. By August 2019 he was an Under-21 international with over 50 first-team appearances for Wolves who scored his maiden goal in a Europa League qualifier.

According to that trajectory he should be a major Premier League player by now, but instead, after running into trouble for breaking Covid-19 rules in May 2020, then an injury-disrupted loan at Swansea City last season, he has been sent out again.

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Just not being on the field regularly has been hard for the 21-year-old to take.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Morgan Gibbs-White.Wolverhampton Wanderers' Morgan Gibbs-White.
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Morgan Gibbs-White.

“I have been playing football since I could walk,” he says. “I have always enjoyed it. It’s freedom, being on the pitch being able to do what you love.

“My dad always used to take me everywhere there was a football game on. He used to play himself, not at a high level. I feel like he was my inspiration. He played for Stafford Town, where I’m from. He was a striker.

“The last few seasons, not playing, has possibly been one of the toughest times so far – getting five minutes here and 10 minutes there. You need the game-time and the experience.”

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Never mind playing in front of big crowds for a big club and a manager with an impressive track record, regular minutes appeal most.

“I can’t wait to get playing now,” he says. “I want game-time and goals and assists. I want to help United get back to where they want to be.”

That hunger has been evident to his manager.

“Morgan Gibbs-White is a young guy with a desire to improve, he is looking for a place where he can have more time on the field,” says Jokanovic. “He can probably find this opportunity in my team. We are really positive about the impression he has made in the 10 days he’s been working with us.”

Goals and assists will certainly be key to getting the Blades back to where they want to be. For a squad up to its eyeballs with centre-forwards, they have been very hard to come by. Gibbs-White’s ability to play wide could be a factor after the Blades were unable to sign the wingers Jokanovic wanted in the window.

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“He will play in the (today’s) game and you can see what role I believe is best for us but he’s a guy who can run the spaces, who can add interesting things for us after passing the ball,” teases Jokanovic.

Whatever went wrong post 2017, Gibbs-White insists it was not getting ahead of himself, as can sometimes be the case with talented youngsters.

“We won the tournament because the quality was very high and we worked hard,” he stresses. “Every day, you always have to impress. You have to impress the manager and the staff, because you want to be playing.”

Having been heavily involved in pre-season and featured in three Wolves matches this season, the international break has been more about getting up to speed with his team-mates than fitness. He already has a good understanding with Brewster, who told his friend what to expect before heading off on a goalscoring international break with England Under-21s.

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“The phone call to Rhian was really just to ask about the staff and everything else,” says Gibbs-White. “I’ve played with Rhian since I was 16, so we have a really good relationship.

“I’m really surprised with how they started (the season) because since I’ve been training with them the quality of players is really good. We have got to continue doing the work that the manager wants us to do and produce.

“I just think the final product is lacking. I think I can bring that. We’ve been working hard together these past couple of weeks. That’s why the manager has brought us in, because he knows we can bring goals and assists and help the team out.

“I think I bring energy, working hard for the team, bringing goals and assists and a winning mentality. I love to win games.”

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With what Jokanovic calls a “clean mind”, a creative style and an eye for goal, Gibbs-White looks ideal for the Blades, just as fellow deadline-day signing Conor Hourihane and Iliman Ndiaye, effectively promoted to the senior group in the last fortnight, does.

Theory and practice are not the same thing, of course, but if the Blades and Gibbs-White can finally get one another going, history suggests there is still much to play for.

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