Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: Belief is what it's all about for Blades
Now who imagined that for starters? Well, Billy Sharp, for one, and he’ll be already picturing his next big moment.
Let’s not get too deep here but any sports psychologist - now commonplace in football - will tell you that forming mental images in advance of an event is a powerful tool for competitors.You could call it dreaming, except that Sheffield United and their biggest talisman are repeatedly living theirs. And you can’t imagine any finer example of the value of positive thinking than the ebullient mood around Bramall Lane ahead of Sunday’s first home game back in the Premier League.Optimism abounds and the skipper embodies it after the first top flight goal of his long and prolific career earned Sheffield United a deserved late equaliser and a point at Bournemouth.Billy’s thinking bigger still and why not? When we spoke just ahead of the season he had an even grander image in mind - but one tempered with his usual realism. It was picturing an encounter with Liverpool and facing the man who became the world’s costliest defender at the time of his £75m move to Anfield early last year.“Virgil van Dijk might have me tied up for 89 minutes but you have to stay switched on for that one moment,” he said. “And in that moment I’ll believe I can score.”While Billy’s words, written down, might suggest a touch of bravado, there is never anything like that in his tone. Far from it, in fact.He’s quietly spoken, occasionally impishly humorous, and delivers opinions in a matter of fact sort of way.It’s also what makes him so dangerous because, for all those still foolish enough to doubt him, the important thing is that Sharp never doubts himself.That inner steely core of belief tells him he’ll always score goals. No matter what the level. He’ll also believe he should start in most games, if not all. Nothing wrong with that, either, now that a self-admitted past tendency to sulk has been well and truly banished.Manager Chris Wilder always knows he has a man straining at the leash when he confines this player to the bench. Sharp will feel, as do I, that he has made a strong case to start against Crystal Palace this weekend.There are many others striving for the same - including seven of Wilder’s ten summer signings. Only three saw any action at Bournemouth, with only one starter in Callum Robinson, who got the nod ahead of Sharp up front and performed well enough to justify it.That, including the choice of John Lundstram in midfield, was the ultimate statement of Wilder’s intent “not to take a wrecking ball” to the spirit and togetherness of his promotion squad.These are qualities even a £45m spending spree cannot buy. To be part of it, the new recruits have to embrace that group mentality and earn their spurs. Important, too, that the existing players know they will have a fair crack.In Lundstram’s case, he has neither nailed down a regular place nor been appreciated by many in the crowd during his two years at Bramall Lane. But Wilder’s belief in the England Under 20 international, now 25, has never wavered and the manager has more than earned the right to be backed over supposedly unpopular calls.Indeed, belief is really what it’s most about for all Blades right now. They are fully justified in having it.