Why Sheffield United will not allow coronavirus suspension to beat them

SHOULD domestic football get under way again next month after the suspension of all Premier League, EFL and FA Cup games until at least April 3, there is a fair chance that the prospect of games being played behind closed doors may represent the only feasible option – like it or loathe it.

John Egan of Sheffield Utd challenges Sebastien Haller of West Ham United (Picture:: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

It is not an ideal scenario for players, managers, club officials and supporters alike. But some would venture that it still constitutes a better option than a season being declared null and void.

For players in the top flight, the adrenalin rush of playing in front of thousands of expectant fans – with all the match-day buzz that comes with it – could be temporarily made redundant.

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For Sheffield United’s self-motivated band of brothers, who are not just team-mates but life-long friends given the footballing time of their lives over the past few seasons, playing for themselves as well as their supporters is a prime motivation according to defender John Egan.

John Egan (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

These are players who do not need the bright lights of TV or mass adoration of throngs of fanatics to be turned on.

Their competitive juices are not overly stimulated by the sight of packed out stadiums. They are there on a daily basis.

The competitiveness of training at the Blades’ Shirecliffe base is legion. The word that a host of new signings have used to describe it is ‘intensity’ when asked about their first impressions of life at the club.

That daily intensity is invariably a far cry from their experiences at previous clubs. It is omnipresent at Sheffield United.

You suspect that most hate losing at Tiddlywinks or Monopoly with their families, let alone five-a-sides in training or on game-day, perish the thought.

It is why, should games be played in front of empty stadiums upon the resumption of football, that the Blades would cope.

On that prospect, Egan said: “I haven’t discussed it or really thought about it, to be honest. Obviously, seeing a couple of games in midweek that were behind closed doors, it does look a bit weird.

“But we have got a pretty strong dressing room and a lot of men in there and I don’t think trying to get us up for a game will be a problem.

“We can play a game in a car park and we would be just as revved up as if it was at Old Trafford or Anfield.

“We are a competitive bunch, even playing against each other in training. If your team is winning or losing, there’s an edge to it and you come in every day and the lads want to win every day whether it is five-a-side or a game of head tennis, or at three on a Saturday, and that all stems from the gaffer, he’s a big competitor and a winner.

“I think you can see in our play every week that we will do whatever it takes to try and win a game.”

This is a group who also watch each other’s backs and if they are without the presence of home supporters or a hardcore of away followers, the desire to win does not change.

It is also a group who have not been wined and dined in the Premier League throughout their career, far from it.

Egan’s mentality was honed at Gillingham and Brentford, with his fellow defenders Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell and George Baldock also doing the hard yards in the lower divisions.

The likes of John Lundstram and John Fleck also have their own stories alongside the likes of Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and Dean Henderson – players and lads who will never forget their roots in a life and footballing sense.

“We are a really close, tight-knit bunch and we want to do well for the club and ourselves and I don’t think it will change our mindset one bit if there are games behind closed doors,” added Egan.

“We will go out there with the same competitive edge and desire to win the game.

“It is just a different feeling and would feel like a reserve game. For the home team, it is probably a disadvantage because you are used to your home crowd lifting you and cheering you through the games.

“As players, once you get on the pitch, everything will go out of the window and you are just fighting for three points as usual.

“It will not make you want to win the game any less. If it does come to that and there are games behind closed doors, then you have still got to win them.”

Egan’s declaration that United will deal with the cards they are dealt with and not moan about it is testament to their uplifting story over the past few years.

It is one where excellence has arrived on the football field and friendships and trust built off it. To a man, they all look after their own.

New signings are assimilated and looked after in a strong dressing room led by a core of senior professionals and if there is trouble, then the ‘family’ rallies around.

In a recent interview, summer signing Lys Mousset spoke of how some issues in his personal life had been affecting his form, alluding to a difficult spell in his first full season at the club.

One thing he can count upon is the support and understanding of his colleagues.

Egan said: “It is that type of group where people are there for each other on and off the pitch.

“Even just in the afternoons and stuff. Quite a lot of us go for coffee every day and breakfast etc.

“That is good as well. Off the pitch the likes of Lys and the lads who came in January are new to Sheffield and England. It is good for us to help them settle in because if it is going well off the pitch, it goes well on the pitch.

“I think everybody in the changing room will say that we are a bunch where if anyone needs any help, it is given.”