CHRIS BASHAM once volunteered in an interview that he is a player who “always likes to be spoken to and led”.
One can only surmise an insight which escaped his new boss. Chris Wilder values leaders; players prepared to stand up and be counted. A prerequisite of the Sheffield United manager, especially when the going gets tough.
Had Wilder got wind of Basham’s quote – or indeed if he did – it is likely the player’s life would have suddenly become a great deal more difficult.
A lot of water has since flowed under the bridge and flies in the face of the defender’s painful, if honest, comment. His performance at home to Preston North End last Saturday, for example, encapsulated all that is good about the 30-year-old Geordie.
Under former managers Nigel Clough, who signed him after his contract expired at Blackpool, and particularly Nigel Adkins, Basham was often a liability. Only adding to the frailty of accident-prone defences. Frustratingly, also offering brief glimpses of his capabilities. A 2-0 win at Barnsley in 2015 when he was moved into midfield being the best of them. A conflict mirrored perhaps by his personal football preference. A Geordie who supports Sunderland.
Basham’s self doubt which could get the better of him at times appears to have long gone. Under Wilder his career has blossomed. Starting in his now customary position on the right of a central back three, sure-footed and full of belief he was a driving force in the attacking system which the manager encourages from back to front.
Add to that a superbly headed goal from an equally exquisite delivery from Ollie Norwood to put the Blades 2-0 up, his tenth goal for United and first since March at Brentford. The go-to recipient of the captain’s armband following Billy Sharp’s substitution and demonstrating his flexibility by finishing the match in midfield. It’s easy to understand why Basham has become one of the first names to be pencilled into the team sheet.
Those whom Wilder inherited and kept have all improved. Some more than others and Basham is arguably the frontrunner in this category.
Midfielder Paul Coutts and fullback, now wingback, Kieron Freeman who began life under Wilder amongst the unwanted and were immediately transfer-listed, quickly demonstrated their hitherto hidden potential to reverse that decision and become a key part of United’s League One promotion campaign. Both remain hugely valuable assets.
Indeed, before Coutts broke his leg in a tackle at Burton Albion last November, he was widely regarded as United’s jewel in the crown of their Championship return. Most Blades supporters expect that still to be the case on his imminent and much anticipated comeback.
Of those from outside, striker Leon Clarke eventually repaid the manager’s faith in signing him after an inauspicious and injury-hit first season at Bramall Lane. Nineteen goals ensured he finished the following campaign as the club’s top scorer, joint-third with Bristol City’s Bobby Reid behind Matej Vydra (Derby, 21) and Lewis Grabben (Sunderland/Aston Villa, 20).
Basham has also made enormous personal strides under Wilder. None more so has that been demonstrated than in a difficult period for United following the international break.
Now, as is so often the case, Basham, tongue-in-cheek nickname ‘Bashambauer’ for his penchant to mimic the great former German international defender Franz Beckenbauer by making driving runs forward and offering occasional deft flashes of inspiration with the ball, is first to step up to the plate.
He produced a man-of-the-match display in an otherwise desperately disappointing midweek goalless draw at home to strugglers Birmingham City. Only he and goalkeeper Dean Henderson emerged with credit from a lacklustre and disjointed performance.
The Blues, then still without a win, were no great shakes either but struck the woodwork twice and but for Henderson’s heroics would have taken all three points. Basham, meanwhile, encapsulated the spirit of his manager whilst others inexplicably went uncharacteristically AWOL.
Roll on Saturday and the visit of Preston. They arrived with only one Championship win and not a single goal scored on their travels. But United, having gained a 2-0 lead, contrived to let the Lancastrians level the match before a late strike from David McGoldrick consigned them to the foot of the table.
McGoldrick won the official man-of-the-match award, not least for his winner and laying on Sharp’s first-half opener. But it was Basham who, in my opinion, deserved the plaudit for the second time in four days. His most complete and professionally satisfying display, I would suggest, in a Sheffield United shirt.
The downside to all of this is that when Basham comes to the fore it is usually an indication that United are experiencing difficulties. Having arrived at the international break on a high following a 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa, resumption didn’t go according to plan.
Eight days and defeat at Bristol City where they dominated for long periods but were responsible for their own downfall. A miserable performance against Brum and two points dropped. A late and nail-biting recovery which should never have been needed against Preston.
Demonstration there is much work to be done at United’s Shirecliffe training ground in the coming weeks. The Blades are fourth, only three points behind leaders Leeds United who drew 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday tonight, and two points behind second-placed Middlesbrough.
After nine matches that is exceptional. Margins between success and failure, however, are wafer thin. Recent performances have demonstrated just that and as Wilder acknowledged this week his side “are nowhere near” from being the finished article.
On paper next opponents Millwall are sitting ducks. Third from bottom, only one win and since then six defeats and a draw. But that victory was at home to Frank Lampard’s highly fancied Derby County and they held visiting pace-setters Leeds 1-1.
Comforting to know then that whether or not the bumps are ironed out starting at The Den, Basham is one whom can be counted upon to keep the red flag flying. Leading from the back which by his own admission wasn’t always the case.