BILLY SHARP’S anticipated return to Sheffield United for a third time appears to be a match made in heaven. Or is it a case of don’t let the facts spoil a good story?
The stars have almost aligned to herald his arrival. A boyhood Blade, developed as a trainee at the club he loves. A personal favourite of United’s newly-appointed manager Nigel Adkins. At Scunthorpe he signed Sharp from Bramall Lane. He signed him again at Southampton and once more at Reading on loan.
What’s not to like about the 29-year-old striker who doesn’t appear to be in Uwe Rosler’s plans at Leeds? The former Middlewood Rovers youngster was on target in a 3-0 pre-season friendly win at Tadcaster Albion this week and is set to go on Leeds’ tour of Austria and Norway. It’s beyond doubt that our Billy’s heart beats at Bramall Lane. Wages and dropping down a division are the sticking points which United hope to overcome.
United's Under-21 coach Chris Morgan commented a few weeks ago that Sharp has unfinished business at the Lane – and that’s the worry. For all the hype surrounding one of United’s favourite sons, he hasn’t lived up to expectation even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. What’s to say it is likely to be any different now?
The obvious answer is he would be reuniting with a manager who knows how to get the best out of him. Fifty-three league goals in 80 appearances at Scunthorpe is testimony to that. Nine form 11 outings at Southampton and another couple in six appearances on loan at Reading.
Sharp has also proved himself elsewhere – 40 league goals at Doncaster for a start – and apart from his time at Glandford Park has always played at Championship level. United would undoubtedly be in a better place with Sharp on board.
But consider this. Despite being on the books from the very start and being re-signed in a loss-making transfer deal – sell your own discovery for £100,000 buy him back for £2million – that only United could engineer, Sharp has made just 25 starts for the Blades in 38 league appearances and scored eight goals.
The player's adoration at the Lane is, in fact, based on myth. If United do manage to get his autograph which Billy Sharp is going to turn up?
Thirty goals in his second season at Scunthorpe – the highest scorer in any of the four leagues – spearheaded the Iron into the Championship as United, relegated from the Premier League, joined them. That was eight years ago. Can Sharp shoulder a similar burden now?
His first season back at the Lane was a disappointment. Only four Championship goals and a further two in the Carling Cup from 36 appearances. In 2008-9 he raised the roof at Bramall Lane with a superbly taken hat-trick in the first home match of the season against QPR. Sharp looked set to finally fulfil expectation. Alas, only one league goal followed along with two in the FA Cup.
He wasn’t helped by former manager Kevin Blackwell’s penchant for playing him wide on the left, but disappointing all the same. The striker would score once more, in a 2-1 Carling Cup home defeat at the beginning of the next campaign, before being offloaded to Doncaster on loan.
His dramatic resurrection of form at the Keepmoat – where he became an instant hit with 15 goals – calls into question the coaching philosophy being employed at Bramall Lane at that time.
Doncaster made the move permanent in a £1.1m deal the following summer. Sharp, “just a fat lad from Sheffield” as Sean O'Driscoll, his boss at Doncaster once jokingly called him, responded with another 16 strikes from 31 outings. He added a further 10 to his tally in 2011-12 before Adkins signed him again, this time for Southampton in the January transfer window.
Since that £1.8m move Sharp was loaned to Nottingham Forest, Reading and Doncaster once more, with a return of 16 goals in 51 matches. Last season he made only one Championship start for Leeds, coming off the bench on 16 occasions and scoring five goals.
Sharp would clearly benefit from stability and the knowledge that he would be welcomed with open arms by Unitedites and Adkins alike. If and when he does leave Leeds feeling the love could very well be the deciding factor.
Apart from signing for Barcelona, Billy Sharp has probably spent many a night dreaming of leading the club he loves out of the doldrums and into the Premier League. Unfinished business? Maybe this is his time.