Chris Wilder winning the LMA Manager of the Year award this month was a significant moment, and not only because the Sheffield United boss beat Pep Guardiola to the gong.
The award is the culmination of the incredible job Wilder has done since taking over at his boyhood club in 2016. Sheffield United have achieved two promotions in three years under the former Oxford and Northampton coach.
It has been a topsy-turvy decade for the Blades, who have struggled to return to the Premier League since their relegation in 2006/07, finding themselves dropping another division before working their way back up to the top flight this term.
A number of hugely talented players have passed through the club in that time, but Sheffield United have lost many of those stars, such as Phil Jagielka, the fan favourite who left for Everton in 2007.
Strangely enough, the 36-year-old would find it difficult to get in the side if all of the club’s former players returned to Bramall Lane today. That’s partly because of his age, but it also says a lot about the level of player Sheffield United have possessed during a fluctuating period in the club’s history.
We’ve proposed how the Yorkshire side would line up in the Premier League today if all of their former stars suddenly returned. And such is the quality of the current team, four present-day Sheffield United players are included.
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Current club: Sheffield Utd (on loan from Man Utd)
Sheffield Utd apps: 46
We start with one of this season’s stars. Dean Henderson played a major role in Sheffield United’s promotion to the Premier League, winning the Championship Golden Glove with 21 clean sheets.
The 22-year-old has spent the last four campaigns away from Manchester United on loan, but the Red Devils may now be considering giving him a first-team squad place next term. Sheffield United will have something to say about that with Wilder surely eager to secure the club’s Young Player of the Year on another loan or a permanent deal.
Centre-back: Gary Cahill
Current club: Chelsea
Sheffield Utd apps: 16
Many will be unaware two-time Premier League winner Gary Cahill spent a short spell on loan at Sheffield United in the 2007/08 Championship season. The centre-back joined the Blades on a three-month deal from Aston Villa in the first half of the campaign.
He then left Villa permanently for Bolton Wanderers in the January 2008 transfer window. At Bolton, he would go on to become one of England’s most highly-rated defenders, and his form eventually earned him a big-money move to Chelsea. He is set to leave the Blues this summer on a free transfer after seven years of service.
Centre-back: Conor Coady
Current club: Wolves
Sheffield Utd apps: 50
Conor Coady spent just one season at Sheffield United on loan from Liverpool, impressing enough in League One to earn a move to Championship side Huddersfield Town. He didn’t last long there either, joining Wolves a year later.
But Coady has been a revelation in the Midlands, moving from central midfield to the middle of a back three, captaining the side to promotion and keeping his place in the spine of Nuno Espirito Santo’s brilliant team this term. Sheffield United also play with a back three, and they’d love to have Coady back in it.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
Current club: Leicester City
Sheffield Utd apps: 166
Harry Maguire has enjoyed an astonishing rise in stature since signing for Leicester in the summer of 2017, becoming a favourite among England fans at last summer’s World Cup and reportedly attracting interest from Manchester United.
The Sheffield-born centre-back rose through the ranks at his boyhood club and was eventually tempted away by the proposal of Premier League football at Hull City. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, but Sheffield United fans – and perhaps Maguire himself – will be dreaming of a reunion later in his career.
Right wing-back: Kyle Walker
Current club: Manchester City
Sheffield Utd apps: 35
Now a two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City thanks to a string of scintillating displays on the right flank, Kyle Walker was once a young centre-back trying to break into the Sheffield United team.
His efforts saw Tottenham swoop and loan him back to Bramall Lane, where he played 26 times in the 2009/10 Championship campaign. Further loans with QPR and Aston Villa followed before he became a Spurs regular, and the rest is history. Like Maguire, Walker still attends his former club’s games when possible.
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Central midfield: Ollie Norwood
Current club: Sheffield Utd
Sheffield Utd apps: 44
It’s safe to say Ollie Norwood has found it difficult to call a place home in his career. Since his days in the Manchester United academy, the 28-year-old has had eight different clubs, including three different teams in the last three seasons.
Remarkably, though, Norwood appears to be the secret ingredient when it comes to promotion to the Championship. Over the last three years, he has gone up with Brighton, Fulham and now Sheffield United, who he joined permanently in January after a promising loan spell. The Northern Ireland international was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year this season for his efforts.
Central midfield: David Brooks
Current club: Bournemouth
Sheffield Utd apps: 37
David Brooks has been cited as one of the Premier League’s signings of the season by fans and pundits alike. The Wales international has been excellent for Bournemouth since arriving on the south coast from Sheffield United last summer.
Brooks quickly became a regular at Bramall Lane in the 2017/18 season, making 33 appearances and scoring three goals from central midfield in the Championship. He bettered that tally in his debut top-flight campaign, scoring seven goals in 28 matches for the Cherries. At just 21, Brooks has a bright future ahead of him.
Left wing-back: Enda Stevens
Current club: Sheffield Utd
Sheffield Utd apps: 93
Another of the current crop, Enda Stevens is a crucial cog in Wilder’s system, which makes use of wing-backs to spread the opposition across the pitch and to make gaps for Sheffield United to exploit. Stevens has scored four goals and provided seven assists from the left flank this term.
The former Aston Villa and Portsmouth defender finished the season strongly, winning the PFA Championship Player of the Month for April.
Forward: Che Adams
Current club: Birmingham City
Sheffield Utd apps: 55
Che Adams was one of Sheffield United’s shining lights in League One, but the team’s failure to achieve promotion to the Championship in 2015/16 saw them lose him to Birmingham City in the summer of 2016.
Since then, the 22-year-old has gradually become one of the second division’s most lethal strikers, scoring 22 goals this season. He has subsequently been linked with a move to the Premier League; perhaps Sheffield United will consider an offer for a player they must feel left too soon.
Forward: Billy Sharp
Current club: Sheffield Utd
Sheffield Utd apps: 242
It may be his third attempt at becoming a success for his boyhood club, but Billy Sharp has finally won Sheffield United fans over since returning to the club in 2015. He was named in the Championship Team of the Year this season and was the club’s top scorer with 23 league goals.
Sharp has been a key figure in the Blades’ promotion push, scoring vital goals in huge games as Wilder’s men finally secured their return to the Premier League. His teammates were certainly appreciative, too, naming the striker Players’ Player of the Year.
Forward: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Current club: Everton
Sheffield Utd apps: 12
Dominic Calvert-Lewin didn’t score a single goal in his 12 appearances for Sheffield United, but his energetic displays for someone so young tempted Everton to take him to Merseyside in the summer of 2016.
His goal record could certainly improve, but Calvert-Lewin has put in a number of mature performances this season. He led the line brilliantly in Everton’s 4-0 mauling of Manchester United at Goodison Park, and even if the Toffees bring in a new striker this summer, the 22-year-old will continue to be an important member of the squad next term.