Sheffield United's Anel Ahmedhodzic on the ingredients which make him so driven

"Driven" is how manager Paul Heckingbottom describes Anel Ahmedhodzic, the cavalier centre-back who has made such a big impression on Sheffield United this season.

In a division like the Championship, mentality is so important in sorting the wheat from the chaff and ahead of a difficult game at home to Stoke City on Saturday – aren't they all? – the Blades look well placed to come through it with promotion back to the Premier League.

Lots of different ingredients combine to create a human being, but looking at Ahmedhodzic's, it is no surprise the 23-year-old is pretty tough.

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He comes from a Bosnian family that lived and fought in Sarajevo during the conflict that ended Yugoslavia.

UPBRINGING: Sheffield United's Bosnia centre-back Anel AhmedhodzicUPBRINGING: Sheffield United's Bosnia centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic
UPBRINGING: Sheffield United's Bosnia centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic

By the time he was born the family had moved to Rosengard, the district of Malmo those outside of Sweden who have heard of it will probably only know as the birthplace of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but those in the city know for its high crime rate.

Combine that with a football-mad but strict dad, not to mention a footballing education which saw him meet Ibrahimovic as a Malmo mascot before a round trip which took him from Nottingham Forest’s academy to the Swedish and French leagues before returning to England with the Blades in the summer and voila, you have one of the most exciting footballers in the Championship.

"My whole family were in a war that was four years long," he explains. "I was born in ‘99, three years after, but it had a huge effect on the mentality, it had to make them stronger.

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"It was all about surviving and I think that's the main thing they taught me. Essentially in your football career it's you against everyone because there's someone out there who wants my place, there will always be someone.

"That's the main thing they told me."

It is not just Chris Basham – as he has said before, about as friendly and helpful a rival as there can be – he has to worry about. There are plenty of envious Championship teams after Sheffield United's automatic promotion place too.

Sport has a history of saving boys from lives of crime, and Ahemdhodzic is no different.

"It's one of the places in Sweden that has the highest crime rate," he says of Rosengard. "When I was younger I had a best friend, we grew up together, did everything together, played football in the same team, but in the end he chose another path. I could have chosen the same path as him easily.

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"Zlatan Ibrahimovic came from there as well. It's a pretty rough area to grow up in but it makes you very strong mentally and you take that with you everywhere you go.

"He (Ibrahimovic) has been my idol since I was a kid.

"When I was a kid I was a mascot to him. That's the only time I met him.

"I think I was eight or nine, something like that. He didn't speak to me but when he comes in the room he's the big boss – everyone looks at him.

"He has that respect."

When Ahmedhodzic says, "If you chose the right path you will have the mentality to go through with it", it is clear who guided him towards it. It probably explains the mindset Heckingbottom describes his defender as "pretty simple – family and football".

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"My dad was very strict, keeping me in control, and I appreciate that very much," says Ahmedhodzic. "My mum was the same. Bosnian parents are very strict.

"I would not be where I am today if it weren't for them.

"My dad's life is football. Every day we watched football and he told me I've always had a ball at my feet since I was maybe two or three.

"I fell in love with it and since then it was just football.

"He tells me he did play in Sarajevo when he was 17 but then the war came and he had to fight to defend his country.

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"You have all these temptations when you're a young kid, you don't know better. But they're temptations you have to get through.

"Luckily my parents kept me from those temptations."

It means Ahmedhodzic fits seamlessly into a dressing room he says is "full of leaders".

There is a joy to the way he plays, galavanting forward from right-sided centre-back at what feels like every opportunity, his hunger for scoring and making goals apparently as strong as his desire to keep them out.

But Heckingbottom's Blades are all about discipline and hard work.

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"It's not about being happy every day, it's about giving your best," insists the manager. "I think when players are rewarded for that, which they are here in terms of our time and our energy, plus minutes on the pitch, they're more likely to do it."

Ahmedhodzic certainly sounds like he is enjoying the Steel City.

"It's good," he says. "It's nice. It's very grey, it rains a lot but it's nice.

"I like the area I live in, there's a lot of nature. I like to live near the city but not in the city so the nature's there. I have a five-minute drive to the nature and a 10-minute drive to the city, which is perfect."

Sheffield United and Ahmedhodzic sound like they were made for each other.