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Spotlight: Billy Sharp

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Billy Sharp's goals have fired his boyhood club Sheffield United to two promotions in three seasons. He has beaten the critics who once poked fun at his waistline and the "fat lad from Sheffield" sits on top of the pile as the most prolific English scorer of the 21st century. Off the field he has faced unimaginable grief. In 2011, Billy's son Luey died just two days into his fragile little life. But Billy battled back from the brink of despair and is now helping a Blades side that has defied the odds in a stunning return to the Premier League

What drives you as a player, proving people wrong?

I have never had to prove anyone wrong proving myself right. I just need the belief of the manager to give me that platform to score goals and I've managed it all my career. I've got a good team around me with my parents and family. The big drive now is to make my kids happy. As a young kid, I selfishly wanted to score goals. My dad has never missed a game. My mum has only missed two. Just to make them proud is huge for me. And now for the Sheffield United fans whenever I score it means a lot to me.

Do you savour every goal even more aged 34?

I think so. You never know when that last goal is going to come. I cherish the goals more, especially the ones in the Premier League. I couldn't have asked for a better start coming off the bench and grabbing the first goal for Sheffield in this league for 12 years. That was a great moment and one I'm never going to forget.

Has it been a frustrating season for you personally with you not starting many games?

Yeah. If I'm not playing I'm not able to help the team. I'm as fit and strong as I ever have been. I'm more hungry to score goals. I know I can score in the Premier League. The goals are the same size, it's a green pitch, a round ball. I feared we wouldn't create many chances, but we are doing. As a team the lads are doing brilliant and I crave the opportunities to get on the end of those chances. I keep my head down, like I always have done, and try to break into the team.

How do you see your role at the club as captain?

It's made me better as a person off the pitch and on it. I have responsibilities I never had. Wearing the armband is the main thing on the pitch. But there are duties off the pitch where you have to be in control of the changing room. I've had that responsibility for the last three years. I feel I've done okay with it and as a captain I think I have been successful. It's hard to influence when you aren't playing, but I am always there if the lads need me.

Have you had to adapt your game or did you always feel you'd score goals at any level?

I've always believed I could do it in the Premier League. I used to hear it all the time "'at, slow'. I'm not fat. I was for about six months of my career. I don't think I'm even slow. I'm pretty sharp off the mark. I'm a traditional centre-forward who gets on the end of chances my team-mates provide. I'm not someone who takes three people on and whacks it in the top corner, but as long as it says 'Sharp, goal' that's all that matters. I've always been hungry to score goals and I will be until the day I die.

Have you surprised yourselves with how well you've done this season?

I saw loads of pieces writing me off, writing other individuals off, writing us off as a club, as a team but deep down we had the belief we would do well. The aim was to stay up in the first year but we knew we could do a lot better. Hopefully we can build like we have done in the last few years. The second season will be harder but if we can get over that line, stay in the division and finish as high as we can, we can assess it and go again.

What do you think is driving the success of the team?

The continuity. The team hasn't changed that much since promotion and as individuals and as a team we've raised our game. It was about momentum to start with. That was why I was so happy my goal got us something out of the opening game against Bournemouth it gave us something to build on. We got a lesson against Liverpool away but the scoreline didn't reflect that. They're the best team in the world and have the trophies to prove it. It was a learning curve for us, it's where we had to assess what we didn't do right. It gave us a little kick up the backside.

Do you have one eye on your life after football?

I've not been playing a lot recently so I'll be able to play until I'm 40, I reckon! I'll keep going. I look after myself a lot better than I used to do as a kid. You think you can get away with things when you're a kid, but I want to keep playing and scoring goals for as long as I'm still enjoying it. I've got 18 months left at Sheffield United and I'll continue to give my best for the club.

Then a move into coaching?

I'm doing my badges, so it's an option. I've had a go at the media side of it, which I enjoy; there's a little less pressure than in coaching. You look at the gaffer. He used to manage what was a supermarket team but he's worked his way to the top and it does make you want to have a go at that.

What can you learn from Chris Wilder?

As a club we're all learning from each other. The core of the group have done a lot for each other in the past three years and got each other where we are now. You can always learn every day. It’s what you take out of each day to make yourself better.

After you lost your son you spoke about your grief. Is it easier to talk about personal issues in the game now?

I think the world is better for that these days. Everybody has ups and downs. I've realised, especially with losing a son, the only way to get things better is to not shut people out, to talk. No matter how bad it is, you can always make it better. Football is great. People slate footballers and football for the money in the game, but the emotions and the feelings it gives people you can't get from any other way of life; that's my opinion. There are a lot of people in football who do suffer. The more people speak out, the better.

What would you say to your younger self?

I did everything I could to the best of my ability but it's just that fear factor as a young kid of whether you can say something or you can't. These days the young lads don't know they're born they really don't. Some of the things we had to do back then, which made me as a person and a player and made me appreciate what I was trying to achieve. I think it's given to the young lads so much easier these days. It's not me being bitter, it's just me looking at how I got to where I am now. Football has changed. I'm progressing alongside the game but I'm still an old school type of guy.

Do people outside see the real Billy Sharp?

I think I still have the respect of everyone in the changing room, which is a big thing for me as captain. I think I'm infectious as a player and as a person, for the good. Everybody wants to be a good player for their football club but I've realised especially in the last three years it's not just about individually being good. You have to push your team-mates, who will hopefully push in return. The biggest thing for our promotions over the last few years has been the togetherness we've had through some bad times. Even under the gaffer, we started terrible and it could have not gone the way it has done. But we have just got stronger and stronger.

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