Sheffield United: Michael’s patriot games

Michael Doyle is a big fan of American Football: Photographer Stephen White/CameraSport
Michael Doyle is a big fan of American Football: Photographer Stephen White/CameraSport

Michael Doyle doesn’t really do razzmatazz, writes James Shield.

Is unlikely to be found hollering with delight after completing a perfectly executed tackle or taking part in pre-planned celebrations when the ball finds its way into the back of the opposition net.

What the Sheffield United captain does thrive upon, however, is gladiatorial combat.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise to learn that his preferred way of escaping from the daily grind of League One competition is watching American Football.

A sport where 300 pound giants eyeball each other at the line of scrimmage and, despite its sometimes overbearing hype, really does separate the men from the boys.

“It’s important to switch off at times and, for me, following the NFL is a way of doing that,” Doyle explained. “I’m a big New England Patriots fan so obviously they’re the team I enjoy watching the most.

“But, to be honest, I’ve fallen in love with the sport as a whole and like to keep in touch with what’s going on right the way across the board and at all different levels. In fact, one of the things I’d like to do when I retire is spend a couple of months travelling the States watching lots of different colleges play. The crowds they get are absolutely huge.”

Doyle, though, has no plans to hang-up his boots anytime soon and tomorrow, when United resume their push for the Championship against Rochdale at Bramall Lane, the former Republic of Ireland international will be focused completely on helping Nigel Clough’s side stretch their unbeaten run to five games.

“I think we’re growing into a much stronger unit now,” Doyle told The Star earlier this week. “Lots of new faces arrived during the summer and, although they’re all quality additions, it always takes a while for everything to properly gel. I’m not just talking about on the pitch but off it too because that’s also vitally important.

“We’re getting to know each other as people as well as players and, for me, one of the most telling things that’s happening isn’t just the results lately. We’re still nowhere near as good as I think we can be but, the periods during matches where we’re impressing are growing longer and longer.

“When everything clicks, that bodes well for the future. I really think that’s something to look forward too.”

Despite Doyle’s conviction about United’s prospects, the presence of a Rochdale side which has scored seven goals and conceded none in its last two outings means that, for the next 48 hours at least, they must concentrate on the here and now.

Revealing his respect for Keith Hill’s methods during the club’s media briefing on Wednesday - “His teams always go about their business the right way. They’ve adapted to a higher level well” - Clough nevertheless confirmed United’s preparations have emphasised the importance of ensuring a squad, bolstered by 11 new signings since August, builds upon its Capital One Cup victory over West Ham and, most recently, last month’s draw at Preston North End.

A fixture which saw Doyle, a central midfielder, also deployed as an auxiliary winger during the closing stages of an exacting, no-holds-barred contest.

“That’s one of the things I really admire about the American footballers,” he said. “For me, they’re some of the best athletes out there. They can adapt to so many different things.

“I like my fishing as well but it’s difficult to do that when the season is on and the weather gets bad. I can’t travel miles to a lake when we’ve got a busy schedule here. It just wouldn’t be right.

“But I can watch the NFL on the television and, although the two games are completely different, try and learn a few things from those lads along the way.”

Like most followers of North American sports, Doyle and Clough - a passionate supporter of MLB franchise the Tampa Bay Rays - also boast a keen eye for statistics with the latter recently stressing the importance of reducing the number of cautions United accumulate.

The facts and figures suggest progress is being made with his team averaging 0.87 yellow cards per fixture so far this term compared to 1.5 during the opening eight matches of the previous campaign when Febian Brandy, now of Rotherham, also collected a red.

But, delve deeper into the data, and Clough is right to call for United to sharpen-up in front of goal. Especially, as he bemoaned before returning from Deepdale, they have yet to demonstrate the defensive solidity which characterised the first seven months of his reign.

United average exactly one per game in league competition since returning to action. Early pace-setters Peterborough (2.0) and Rochdale (1.83) lead the way. Since 2012, only once has a club secured automatic promotion after returning less than 1.5. Wolverhampton Wanderers (1.93) and Brentford (1.57) finished first and second last term.

“We can take a lot of confidence from how we’ve performed lately,” Doyle said. “We’ve beaten Peterborough and then gone to Upton Park and Preston and come away with something.

“All three of those are really good teams so that tells you we are one of those as well. It shows what we are capable of.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1