Jake Wright is sitting in a state-of-the-art training facility, clutching a warm cup of tea and focused on nothing but football.
A far cry from the days when, as a young defender with Halifax Town, he used to worry about where the next pay cheque was coming from. Nevermind opposition centre-forward or clean sheet.
“You should be grateful for what you have,” Wright says. “I come here and facilities are fantastic whereas at Halifax, we would train on park pitches, car parks, and basically anything we could find.
“There were money problems and plenty of times when we were late getting paid or didn’t get paid at all. When the club was going bust, I went an entire summer without earning anything and, with young kids at the time, it was a very difficult place. It makes me realise, though, how lucky I am to be representing a magnificent club like this.”
Eight years have passed since Wright left The Shay following Halifax’s financial implosion. But his experiences there remain pertinent because they shed light on the methods Chris Wilder is employing behind the scenes at Bramall Lane. The Sheffield United manager, who brought Wright to West Yorkshire when he was released by Bradford, made no secret of his desire to build a squad stuffed with strong, committed characters after taking charge in May. Wright, who also played for the 48-year-old at his previous club Oxford, is clearly regarded as one of those. So it comes as no surprise to learn he is backing Wilder to succeed with United too.
“We had a camaraderie, the gaffer created it, and it’s what he is doing again. We had a great team spirit (at Halifax) through difficult times, we stuck together, with a small squad.
“We were full-time but the lads were on part-time wages, or less than part-time wages in many cases. We over-achieved, got to a play-off final, and we were the lowest paid club in the league.
“The gaffer then got the job at Oxford, was promoted there, and the same at Northampton where he also got promoted too. Wherever he has been he has installed a team spirit, togetherness, a real fight and belief. I think that’s what he’s started to bring here as well.”
Wright was a member of the Oxford team Wilder guided to the Conference play-off title before moving to Sixfields two years ago. And, like his manager, the centre-half is mighty proud of his blue collar roots. Wright will aim to put the tricks he learnt in non-league to good use against Fleetwood Town tomorrow.
“I have had to graft in my career,” he continues. “I have been in the Conference for a few years, League Two for a few years. This is the biggest club I have ever played for, the best opportunity I have ever had. I don’t want to throw that away, and look back in a few years and think I didn’t give it everything. This is a great opportunity for me, I am buzzing to be here. I don’t want to lose the shirt.”
Wright, who also represented Brighton and Hove Albion and Crawley before joining United, is an accomplished as well as whole-hearted player. Indeed, his performances alongside Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Jack O’Connell in a new-look back three have been a major factor why United enter tomorrow’s match searching for their sixth win in seven League One games.
“I am enjoying it and really like playing in the back three, the middle one. I get a lot more time to see what’s happening, to talk and organise. It’s a position I have played before and it suits me, as well as our players.
“It’s a new formation and I think every week we are improving on it. We are looking really dangerous. I don’t boss the other two about, they are bigger than me. They are both aggressive, good in the air, and it suits how we play. They do most of the heading and tackling, I try to mop up if I can. As long as we get the win, I don’t care what formation we play but I do think it works to our strengths.”
Despite being only six months shy of his 31st birthday, Wright hopes to become part of the fixtures and fittings at Bramall Lane.
“I had a few years at Halifax, before they went bust. I then had to go to Crawley, then Oxford, and worked my way up. We got promoted at Oxford last season, I had a good year, so to get this opportunity with this club is fantastic for me. At 30 I still believe I have six or seven years to give.”