IT’S FAIR to say that before manager Chris Wilder’s arrival at Bramall Lane Chris Basham was an acquired taste. Like Marmite. Now he’s more akin to that Sheffield speciality Henderson’s Relish.
The 28-year-old signed by Nigel Clough in June 2014 was perfectly capable of making elementary blunders as a defender or when deployed in midfield. His commitment and honest endeavour has never been questioned. Indeed, it was the single quality which allowed him a little extra breathing space in front of a demanding crowd. Players who give 100 per cent are afforded that. By the end of last season, however, most Sheffield United fans would not have shed a tear had Basham left for pastures new.
Under Clough his potential was evident. But so too were his failings which often frustrated supporters. For one brief moment he was pushed from the back into midfield and bossed a 2-0 win at Barnsley. Had United finally unearthed a gem, and in a central midfield position where they were sadly lacking? No, it didn’t last.
When Nigel Adkins was at the helm Basham was an integral part of a defence which infamously couldn’t defend. He was always prepared to but a boot in where others feared to tread – an admirable quality – but it often wasn’t what you would coach to youngsters at the Academy up at Shirecliffe. Two years into a three-year contract surely his time was up?
Wilder, however, spared him from the cull of 13 players who were immediately transfer listed. Largely deadwood washed up after a shameful season presided over by a delusional Adkins who increasingly relied on banal soundbites over substance.
The new manager had identified work ethic, something largely lacking from the squad he inherited. Presumably Wilder reckoned he could work on the failings that undermined the player’s potential.
Basham, always media friendly – rent-a-quote as it’s known in the trade – was quick to make clear that he “bought in” to what Adkins was doing at the Lane. The player was one of the first to publicly buy into Clough’s methods, too. Just days before Clough was sacked, Basham was offering public support for the manager whose methods he had “bought into”.
Little surprise then that he was also quick off the mark to be wild about Wilder. It’s now safe to assume that whoever picks the team Basham has an overwhelming need to dispense plaudits where they will be noticed. In Wilder’s case, however, there is plenty of substance for his adoration.
Many point to Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman, Clough additions whom Wilder had no hesitation in putting on his 13-man transfer scrapheap, as being the biggest personal beneficiaries of what the new manager brought to the club. They both dug in, proved their worth and were promptly reinstated. Not only that but Coutts, now such an influence in midfield, and wing-back Freeman have been a revelation. The latter is more than a replacement for former favourite but fading and excessively paid John Brayford. Jettisoned by Wilder on loan to Clough’s Burton Albion where he remains until the end of the season at least.
Wilder has managed to coax out of them something that was entirely hidden. In just a few months both have emerged from the shadows to become leading contenders for Player of the Season. If Championship football returns to the Lane next season as anticipated, Coutts and Freeman will have a major part to play. They have earned it.
Add to that Basham. Whatever Wilder has been putting in his energy drink, it’s working. That’s not to say glimpses of the player in his former incarnation have been banished entirely but the man recently dubbed ‘Bashambauer’ has rid his game of much of what there was not to like.
His performances at the back have steadily improved. In a team full of talent he has frequently been the outstanding contributor during the second half of the season. Playing with self assurance, there’s a level-headiness about Basham that wasn’t there before.
The player offered an insight into what must be regarded as a character flaw for a man whose job title is towering defender. “I always like to be spoken to and led,” he revealed, citing former Arsenal and England Tony Adams as an ideal partner.
He clearly is a player in desperate need of confidence-building which is exactly what psychiatrist Wilder has provided. Coupled with his customary driving runs from the back, which have earned tongue-in-cheek comparisons with German international great Franz Beckenbauer, handled with care Basham may still have his best years in front of him.
It’s easy to overlook that Basham made 21 Premier League appearances, 19 for Bolton Wanderers and two for Blackpool where following relegation he had 85 Championship outings in three years at Bloomfield Road. In his final season before joining the Blades, he was an almost ever-present. At Bolton he was used in midfield but played alongside the likes of Sam Ricketts, Ricardo Gardner, Fabrice Muamba and England defender Gary Cahill.
‘I’m just desperate to get Sheffield United out of this division,” said Basham recently. “The fans are outstanding. There are 20,000 every week in League One. That can only get better if the club went up to the Championship.”
A Geordie from Hebburn, South Tyneside, who supports Sunderland (not advisable), Basham made his Premier League debut with Bolton in 2008 (they won 4-1) at the Stadium of Light. It was a boyhood dream come true and could only have been bettered had he been playing in the red and white stripes of his beloved Mackems.
It looks increasingly likely United will be heading to Sunderland, currently sinking in Premier League mire, in the Championship next season. A fixture Basham has earned the right to relish. Hendo’s style.