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Sheffield United: What goes through a player’s mind when they face their parent club? A former Blade reveals all

Former Sheffield United midfielder Kevin Gage
Former Sheffield United midfielder Kevin Gage

Kevin Gage, the former Sheffield United midfielder, has provided an insight into the psychology of playing against your parent club following Ryan Leonard's appearance for Millwall yesterday.

Leonard moved to The Den on a 'loan to buy' deal earlier this summer and, under the terms of that agreement, was eligible for selection when Chris Wilder's side visited London.

Ryan Leonard will join Millwall permanently in January

Ryan Leonard will join Millwall permanently in January

Gage found himself the subject of a similar arrangement when he joined United from Aston Villa 27 years ago and, asked to describe the emotions Leonard will have experienced, revealed he will have been motivated by a desire to impress his new supporters rather than prove a point to former colleagues.

"The pressure, for me at least, came from knowing I had to settle in somewhere new but also justify the fact they were going to pay money for me," Gage said. "I didn't want people thinking 'This guy has been rubbish for four months and now we've got to spend a fee on him.

"Listen, professionals play against their old clubs all the time and they don't give it a second thought or bat an eyelid. But when you're in this situation, it is a little bit different. You feel like you've really got to perform."

Leonard, aged 26, spent eight months in South Yorkshire before a combination of factors prompted his departure. Speaking during his pre-match media conference, Wilder insisted there was "no plan" to move the player on but the form of others, coupled with the arrivals of Oliver Norwood, Marvin Johnson and Marvin Cranie, meant Millwall's offer was impossible to resist. 

Kevin Gage with former Sheffield United striker Keith Edwards and The Star's James Shield

Kevin Gage with former Sheffield United striker Keith Edwards and The Star's James Shield

Neil Harris' side will pay £1.4m, double the amount it cost United to acquire Leonard from Southend, in January.

"It was a bit different for me because there was no bad feelings involved with Leonard," Gage said. "I came up here because I couldn't wait to get away from Aston Villa. Well, that's not strictly true, I had some great times there. It was Ron Atkinson, who just bombed me out, who I wanted to get away from. I loved it under Graham Taylor but then Ron just wasn't having me at all."

"Strangely enough, like Ryan, I ended up playing against Villa for United pretty quickly," Gage continued. "And I scored my best United goal, one of my best ever goals, against them too. I can remember it now: I took a throw-in, got the ball back, went past Tony Daly and then Steve Staunton. I wasn't thinking of shooting until, going at a fair old pace, I managed to get around Kevin Richardson and hit it.
"To be fair, I got a great bobble that made it dip. Nigel Spink, who is a great mate of mine, just stood and watched the ball fly in."

Gage went on to make nearly 150 appearances for United before heading to Preston North End in 1996.

"I went on a loan to buy because United, who had just signed Brian Gayle I think, needed to defer the fee," he admitted. "My only concern, and I remember saying this to Harry (Dave Bassett), was that the move was definitely going to go through. When he said it was, that allayed some of my concerns.

"I remember asking him 'What if I'm rubbish or break my leg in the first game? You'll still have to sign me.' He replied that was a risk he'd have to take."