By Rob Atkinson
Never one to get carried away by mere Twitter rumours, I am nevertheless fairly happy not to say excited at the prospect - however remote - of Leeds United signing Southampton's Billy Sharp, who has spent most of the season on loan at Forest, but who might just be looking at a bigger move than that.
This is one that's been mentioned in the past, and it's always seemed like a good fit for all parties concerned, yet it's never quite happened. At first glance, Billy does seem an unlikely striker signing for United - he's only 27 for a start, and we normally look to the superannuated end of the market. And he scores goals. My, does he score goals. At Championship level, he's a pretty reliable provider of that most valuable and sought-after commodity. Billy Sharp just loves to hit the back of the net.
Any player - and most especially any striker - joining Leeds United needs to have one quality over and above the obviously desirable playing skills, fitness and application. He needs to be strong-minded, a good character who's resilient enough to step up to the demands of playing for a very demanding and sometimes unforgiving crowd. This is a test that's been failed by some pretty decent-looking performers over the years. Elland Road has been something of a graveyard for strikers who have arrived with big reputations, but have failed to deliver and have ended up slinking off, beaten and broken men, into anonymous obscurity - or even worse, into the first team at Doncaster Rovers.
Billy Sharp though seems to be a man of different mettle. It's impossible to comprehend a more tragic and shattering blow for a parent than the death of a baby. Sharp, and his girlfriend Jade, suffered this awful calamity in November 2011 and the striker could readily have been excused if he'd felt unable to play professional football in the immediate aftermath of such a shattering bereavement. Yet a mere two days after the death of his baby son Luey, Sharp played against Middlesborough and scored a brilliant volley, raising his Southampton shirt to reveal the message "That's For You, Son" (Pictured above). Thankfully, a more than usually understanding referee decided not to book the emotional Sharp, when normally a yellow card would have been applicable. Such a very courageous and professional response to tragedy speaks of a very strong character indeed, and this would seem to be the type of man that many a club would seek to have among their playing staff, not only for footballing reasons, but for the example of courage in adversity that will be set by such amazing resilience and fortitude.
I don't know if Sharp will end up in a Leeds United shirt, but I'd love it if he did. He's demonstrably what people used to call "The Right Stuff", and his goal-scoring credentials are fully in order too. I could see him being a massive part of United's promotion push next season, and really it's good to be linked - in the early days of McDermott's reign - with any player of this character and calibre. The Twitter rumour says he's "in talks and a deal looks likely". Well, we know that these stories float about and are often without foundation, but it's definitely a case of fingers crossed for this one. It might just be a match made in heaven, and the kind of signing which, with a few others in the same vein, could see us challenging for a long-overdue return to the top table of English football.
Billy Sharp - come on down! You'd be most welcome.