By BARRY ANDERSON
(Edinburgh Evening News)
STEFAN SCOUGALL is thriving, scoring goals and loving football again at Sheffield United. Just five months ago, he was told he had no future there. The midfielder from Edinburgh doesn’t mince his words on the man who almost destroyed his Bramall Lane career.
Former manager Nigel Adkins didn’t rate Scougall and started him only seven times last season. A loan move to Hibs was on the table at one point before the player was shipped out to Fleetwood Town. Two days after telling him he was surplus to requirements back in May, Adkins was sacked. Chris Wilder took over and instantly began resuscitating Scougall’s United career.
The 23-year-old is now flourishing once again. Two goals in his last three appearances have contributed to an 11-game unbeaten league run which sees Sheffield United cemented at the top end of England’s League One.
Although buoyant and reinvigorated, Scougall offers a scathing assessment of Adkins and can’t forget how he was almost frozen out.
“Last season under Nigel Adkins I was out of favour for different reasons he was giving me,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News. “In football, people have different opinions but, for me, it was a lot of bulls**t. The change in manager has done me the world of good.
“I was free to go at the end of last season. Adkins kept telling me: ‘You’re a part of my plans.’ Then on the last day of the season it was: ‘You’re not needed.’ Then he got sacked two days later. Football can change very quickly. I was trying to get out on loan from October last year and he kept declining it and wouldn’t let me go. It was actually people above him who finally agreed to let me go out on loan to get some games because I just wasn’t playing at all. I went to Fleetwood and did well.
“I got a phone call after three or four games from Nigel Adkins. He said: ‘You’ve been doing really well. I can’t wait to get you back in the fold here.’ Literally a week later, he extended my loan until the end of the season. I was wondering what was going on. First the manager said he couldn’t wait to get me back to Bramall Lane, then he’s extending my loan.
“When that happened I had a feeling he just didn’t want me. We had a meeting when I got back at the end of the season. He told me: ‘You’re a great player but I need to cut the numbers down.’ All that bulls**t. I was in talks with a couple of teams to leave. Then, fortunately for me, the new manager came in. He liked how I’d performed before Nigel Adkins came in and wanted to give me an opportunity. I still had another year on my contract and he said he wanted to keep me and give me another chance. It was music to my ears. I think I’ve done pretty well so far.”
Hibs and St Johnstone tried to lure the former Livingston midfielder back to Scotland in January this year. Scougall would have gone to Easter Road had they not backed out of the deal, although St Johnstone’s offer to sign him permanently didn’t appeal.
“The Hibs thing was a loan deal. Nigel Adkins wanted me to go back to Scotland rather than stay in England,” he revealed. "St Johnstone came to the table and then Hibs backed off. I think the club told Hibs they wanted more money or whatever.
“I didn’t want to go to St Johnstone because that was a permanent move. Hibs was a loan. I wanted to try and stay down in England unless it was a loan move back to Scotland because I still had 18 months left on my Sheffield United contract. I got the move to Fleetwood and I really enjoyed it under Steven Pressley. They were one of the teams trying to sign me in the summer, but then everything changed at United.”
Scougall is flourishing in his favoured attacking midfield role this season after being given licence to use his creative flair. He is the link between the centre of the park and United’s main striker Billy Sharp – a potent forward who has ten goals in 17 appearances so far this season. Wilder has succeeded in rejuvenating a diminutive and precious talent who knows he is playing for his long-term future in Yorkshire.
“My contract is up at the end of the season so hopefully I can get a new contract here,” stated Scougall. “You never know what can happen. A few months ago I was out the door and then, all of a sudden, I’m staying. I’m happy at Sheffield United, the team are doing well and I’m just loving football again. I think I’m playing at my best. This is as good a spell I’ve had in my career.
“I’m playing mostly in the No 10 area or coming off the wing. It suits me down to a tee because that’s where I feel most comfortable. When I did play under Nigel Adkins, it was mostly used out wide and I’m not a winger. I’m not going to take the ball down the line and put a cross into the box. I’m more about coming inside and linking up behind the strikers.”
One of those strikers, his close friend from their days together at Livingston, Marc McNulty, is absent for the moment. He was loaned to United’s promotion rivals Bradford City in August and won’t return to Bramall Lane until the end of the season. Like his mate, McNulty is also out of contract in May and is fighting for his Sheffield United future.
The prospect of a new contract for one or both may depend heavily on how United fare at the end of the campaign. As has been the case every year for the last five, their burning priority is to get out of England’s third tier and re-establish themselves in the Championship.
“Sheffield United are a massive club. They’ve been down in League One far too long,” admitted Scougall. “This is their sixth season in this division but fans still turn out in huge numbers.
“We played MK Dons at home at the weekend there in front of more than 20,000 people. It’s incredible. Everyone knows we need to go up. We’re on an 11-game unbeaten league run so, if we can continue that, we’ve got to be up there come May.”
Promotion this coming May would certainly beat the dejection Scougall experienced last May. It might also help him earn that new contract he clearly desires.