Kieron Freeman always suspected he was born to score goals.
After all, his father Andy used to bang them in for fun.
“Dad tells me he was the best in the world and that he always got 18 a season. It was only recently that my uncle spilled the beans. Turns out it was more like none.”
Much to the delight of Sheffield United, not to mention the player himself, Freeman’s prowess in the opposition box is the stuff of fact rather than fiction. Already on target nine times during an extraordinary campaign, the former Wales under-21 international enters tomorrow’s game against Oldham Athletic as the League One leaders’ joint-second highest scorer. Unlike Jay O’Shea, however, all of Freeman’s efforts have come as a United player.
“I’ve been working on my finishing, getting the rub of the green and probably a bit of luck,” he says. “But, if you keep on getting into the right positions then something is always going to happen for you. I’ve always been a bit of a big kid in training, wanting to do shooting and stuff like the lads tell me to stop it because I’m a defender but I just enjoy football, every single part of it.”
Freeman’s love affair with the game started as a youngster when, back home in Nottingham, he followed his father’s non-league career. It was a journey which brought the 25-year-old into contact with broken crockery, bruised egos and even a Premier League champion. All of which, when Freeman eventually turned professional himself, proved invaluable experience.
“Dad managed at Belper Town, he was the assistant there. He also managed in an around our local area, with teams like Pelican and Dunkirk. He actually had Wes Morgan there, who of course went onto lift the title with Leicester City last season. I remember, sitting there in the dressing room, and watching dad shout at him.
“I was always around it, watching the china get thrown about, listening to people getting encouraged or a real dressing down. Everything that happened, I just soaked it all up.”
“If I didn’t have homework, quite often even when I did, I’d be sat on the bench at Kimberley Miners Welfare or somewhere like that,” Freeman continues. “I’ve still got tons of newspaper cutting about my dad’s career, he played in the Nottingham Alliance. Everybody tells me he was a bit of a tough guy. I suppose you could get away with kicking people, being a proper hardman if you like, back then! But he was always giving me ideas and little tips.”
Freeman snr, who attends Bramall Lane when the opportunity presents itself, will be as proud of how his son has turned out as his son is of him. Having progressed through the ranks at Nottingham Forest, where he was awarded his senior debut by then manager Steve McClaren, Freeman impressed on loan at Mansfield Town before joining neighbours Notts County on another temporary deal. A move to Derby County followed before, after spending a brief period at Bramall Lane, he arrived on a permanent basis two years ago.
Despite impressing under Nigel Clough, who three seasons earlier had lured him to Pride Park, last term proved a forgettable experience for Freeman after being cast aside by Nigel Adkins. His renaissance since Chris Wilder’s appointment is made even more remarkable when one considers he began the 49-year-old’s reign on the transfer list.
“I’m loving it here at the moment,” Freeman says. “Hopefully this is going to be a time that I’m never going to forget. I’m just trying to keep my head down, keep on working hard and trying to do my absolute best for the team.”
That self effacing attitude, combined with an insatiable appetite for hard yards and work, were among the reasons why Wilder, after growing increasingly disillusioned with John Brayford, handed Freeman a reprieve. His faith has been rewarded as, after scoring nine times in only 38 appearances, the wing-back is now regarded as being among the most important members of United’s squad.
A driving force behind their climb to the top of the table - 10 points clear of Fleetwood Town in third - Freeman is arguably the greatest beneficiary of Wilder’s switch to a 3-5-2 system. Together with, given the number of times they have combined of late, United’s captain and leading marksman Billy Sharp who travels to Boundary Park two shy of 200 career goals.
“It’s definitely my best season in terms of goals and also assists,” he continues. “I’ve been helping Sharpy (Billy Sharp) get closer to his record by setting him up all the time but I’ve never heard him give me any thanks. Joking aside, I’ve been working on my finishing, getting the rub of the green and probably a bit of luck. But, if you keep on getting into the right positions, then something is going to happen isn’t it.”