Chris Basham will arguably go down as one of the best pieces of transfer business Sheffield United sorted this side of the Millennium.
A free signing from Blackpool in 2014, when the Blades were a League One side under Nigel Clough, few would have predicted the meteoric rise at Bramall Lane.
I have always been a bit of a utility man – the gaffer still uses me in that kind of way – but I am really enjoying it.Chris Basham
Five years later, and the Blades have gone from League One also-rans to the top half of the Premier League.
Basham, 31, has been along for the entire journey, an integral part of Chris Wilder’s back-to-back promotion-winning team, chalking up over 200 league starts. Not bad for a self-confessed utility player, with every manager during Basham’s time at United having tinkered with his role.
Whether as a holding midfielder, centre-back or full-back, Basham has adapted to the task.
He has finally settled into an impressive United defence – the joint best in the Premier League after the opening nine games, alongside Liverpool – alongside fellow centre-backs John Egan and Jack O’Connell.
“You have to pinch yourself to realise how quickly this has come,” said Basham, who arrived at Bramall Lane in the summer of 2014 alongside the like of fellow new recruits Andy Butler, Jama Campbell-Ryce and Marc McNulty.
“There’s talented players here, but I think hard work is one of my main talents. The will to learn and the will to win.
“I think it’s been great for me personally on my journey at this football club. To be playing in the Premier League for Sheffield United is a privilege.”
Basham – who had a brief taste of Premier League football with Blackpool in 2010 – paid his dues with early spells at Bolton Wanderers, Stafford and Rochdale.
But United head to West Ham United today with Basham part of a miserly Blades defence which has conceded just seven goals in their opening nine games.
He admits a summer of hard work on the training ground, on their defensive formation, is now starting to reap dividends.
“Last year, we didn’t do anywhere near as much defensive work as we have done this season,” said Basham. “I think you can see that in the games, we are a lot more structured now.
“We are not as gung-ho as what we used to be, against these top players in the Premier League.
“But the boys are really enjoying it, keeping clean sheets, and we have an international goalkeeper (Dean Henderson) who wants to keep as many as he can, and prove himself to everybody.
“You come off the pitch more mentally tired, it’s a lot faster, and you come off more mentally drained than physically drained.
“I think Jack and John enjoy (defending) it more than I do, but being a Premier League footballer you have to enjoy (defending), trying to keep a clean sheet.
“You have to start dictating to the boys in front of you. That’s where it’s been hardest, you always have to be alert, be aware of what’s on your shoulder and around you.
“In the Premier League, that’s when you get hurt, if you don’t do that.”
While Wilder was quick to bolster United’s attacking options in the summer, recruiting the likes of Oli McBurnie, Lys Mousset and Callum Robinson, he kept faith with the defence which earned promotion from the Championship.
Having a settled back line – and re-signing Henderson on a second season-long loan deal from Manchester United – has certainly helped the Blades to hit the ground running.
“Last season, it helped we were together all the way through, we got promoted together,” said Basham. “We have taken that into the Premier League, obviously playing against more talented boys who can change a game very quickly.
“We just try and keep together, do the right things. We have to be together, can’t just go gung-ho, or we will get beat.
“We all enjoy playing together, but have also got lads who can do well off the bench. We have that togetherness, that team spirit and morale of keeping clean sheets. Hopefully, we can keep doing that and there will be a nice bonus at the end.”
Basham is the only Blades player who will feature today from the side which last played the Hammers, in a League Cup tie in August, 2014.
“I have been here a while now,” he said. “The appearances keep on topping up and clean sheets hopefully follow.
“I find myself comfortable in the position that I am playing now. I have always been a bit of a utility man – the gaffer still uses me in that kind of way – but I am really enjoying it.
“We’ve grown into games as the season has gone along. The boys are growing in confidence believing we’re Premier League footballers, all the hype has settled down. It’s now a nice environment, the lads are taking it in their stride.
“There’s some big performances which are happening week-in week-out now. Hopefully, we can maintain that and keep picking up points along the way.
“The gaffer will not let us get over-confident, he will want us to keep knuckling down, performing on the training pitch. He sees it if we train well, we will play well.
“We have been unlucky in a few games not to pick up (more) points, but, hopefully, they’ll come in next batch of games.
“We have got a great togetherness, we want to stick together and the way we perform and play, if we keep a clean sheet, we have got a great chance of winning,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can keep producing those performances.”