Sheffield United v Wigan Athletic: James McAtee on his guiding lights inside and outside of his family

James McAtee has no shortage of guiding figures in his family, but Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie has become another, less likely, one.

The 20-year-old Manchester City midfielder has been sent on a season-long loan to Bramall Lane to further his footballing education, a process which will take another step with Friday's visit of Wigan Athletic.

McAtee has never had to look far for guidance with older brother John having 100 league games under his belt in non-league football and now at League Two Grimsby Town.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dad John played rugby league for St Helens and mum Gill's uncle was World Cup winner Alan Ball.

GUIDANCE: Sheffield United midfielder James McAteeGUIDANCE: Sheffield United midfielder James McAtee
GUIDANCE: Sheffield United midfielder James McAtee

But loans are about cutting the apron strings and striker McBurnie has taken him under his wing.

It was the Scotland international who was first to comfort McAtee when he was subbed at half-time of only his second league start, at Luton Town in August. The game was important for McBurnie, scoring his first league goal since December 2020, and McAtee cites it as crucial for him too, for different reasons.

"He's been great to me," says McAtee of McBurnie. "Especially after the Luton game he put his arm around me and told me it happens to everyone, you just have to get over it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He didn't let me sulk or put my head down and he's a great person to be looking after me.

"He's very down to earth and he'll tell you how it is, he won't beat around the bush.

"He's been there for me in the tough times and when I'm doing well.

"He scored a goal and he was happy but he saw me on the coach a bit down. He put his arm around me and let me come to the back of the bus and spoke to me.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He said there’s no need to get upset about it, you'll be a good player, and stuff like that. He's been a great influence for me."

So have his family.

"My sister's a dance teacher, the same as my mum, and my dad played rugby," he says. "It doesn't bring me any pressure.

"We're always very competitive at home.

"I look up to my brother, he's always there for advice and he's had a good few years."

The most famous name on his family tree is less familiar.

"I was quite young when he passed away," he says of great uncle Alan, himself the son of a professional, "but my mum and my nana speak very highly of him. He must have been a great guy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I've tried to watch some of his highlights on YouTube but I've only seen a few goals. I've watched the World Cup final. He didn't really play a lot like me but he looked like a good player."

With Championship teams playing on Good Friday and Easter Monday at the end of a long season, manager Paul Heckingbottom is looking to nurse his resources.

"We've got some players we want to make sure fitness-wise they're actually improving and getting sharper and more aggressive,” he said.

"But the rest of them, it's about the preparation and we need to make sure we still have that bit of downtime.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We might have to keep dropping off a bit then hitting it. We might still be working but mentally we can relax a little bit."

Last six games: Sheffield United WWWLWL; Wigan Athletic WDDLLDReferee: A Davies (Hampshire)Last time: Sheffield United 4 Wigan Athletic 2, October 27, 2018, Championship