RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Monday, February 15

25-Man Metaphysical Roster: SHEFFIELD UNITED FC

 {Billy Sharp's spirit goal a couple days after his 2-day old son died years ago}

[25-Man Metaphysical Roster is a football metaphysics methodology based off the foundation of minutes played over the past 100 competitive matches for a club, determining which 25 players constitute the strongest psychic force on a club’s current path. Intuitive analysis, performed mostly from an un-American “soccer” fan’s perspective is added. Ideally, we do this twice a month, cycling through English Premier League clubs, because it’s the top domestic English-speaking league on Earth, and as un-American miscreants and mongrels, our staff of writers were born saddled with this limited, segmented tongue of the global colonizer, oppressor, and capitalizer. To some extent, we hate the English, but also America, and likely ourselves. Core staff is Raven Mack (chairman), Paul Robertson (director tecnico), and Neil Bulson (director rudo) from America, with additional input from Dan Brookes and Jude Riley as English consultants. Venmo @ravenmack23.]

Writing about Sheffield United right now is a bit sad, like performing a eulogy while the person is still on a ventilator, technically alive but nonetheless doomed by all appearances. The Blades sit a good 14 points out of surviving relegation, in a season that they’ve thus far only seen around a dozen points, with the bulk of that happening since Boxing Day. They just got off to a terribly shitty start this season, and no amount of recovery might be enough to keep them in the top flight. I find this sad on multiple levels. Firstly, because as a supporter of the previously doomed Swansea City club, I’d taken a shine to Sheffield United while my Swans floundered through the Championship. There were some connections on the pitch between the clubs, and as a doomed individual myself, it’s hard not to love an old industrial revolution city situated in the foothills at multiple rivers slapping together that’s been bombed and abandoned and somehow still survives. Plus, the Blades crest is as close to machete representation as a man can get in modern football. Machetes are a common symbol among football metaphysics, and dirtgod metaphysics in general, as post-industrial capitalist society manufactures all these intangible “needs” which blossom in our minds due to how we’re conditioned to view the world (through these digital filters currently); and the machete is the best thing to hack at all that shit with. It grows like hawthorn or blackberries, so you can’t get at easily, as it’s become so psychically prevalent in how we live our lives, so the machete becomes the tool of choice for hacking away at this shit.
Thus, perhaps all that is why Sheffield United – despite a 9th place finish their first season back to the Premier League since a plummet earlier this century that went all the way down to League One – this club was always doomed. They are a survivalist machete club in an era where international ownership consortiums laundering oligarch and/or fossil fuel monies dominates the tables. Seemingly, the Blades should be able to navigate into that realm, as they are quite literally half-owned by Saudi prince money since 2013. But why hasn’t it taken?
For one, the existing English ownership and Prince Abdullah the Saudi prince half-owner got caught up in legal disputes about ownership the past couple seasons, with Kevin McCabe – a Sheffield businessman – having sought out the foreign investment, and stepping down as chairman when the club slid into the third tier. It became a case of just wanting the money without the loss of authority though, as McCabe tried to squeeze Abdullah out after Sheffield United’s trajectory seemed to have been righted. This ended in McCabe having to sell his half to the prince. McCabe grew up a Blades supporter, but also has gone global with his business interests, and even after being forced by court verdict to sell off his half of his hometown club, still owns clubs in Australia, Hungary, China, and Dubai. Similarly, Prince Abdullah also owns clubs in Belgium, India, and also Dubai. Makes you wonder how heated that Al Hilal United/Dubai Blades rivalry is going to be. In fact, that’s sort of the problem, as all these clubs go from being a singular occupation of a wealthy man’s obsession, as McCabe’s original ownership of Sheffield United was, where a rich man squanders his money trying to give his hometown some sporting glory, to this new global era of ownership. These men (always men) accumulate pieces of clubs like Monopoly board game properties, with no real deep obsession for the club itself. Prince Abdullah wanted Sheffield United to get back to the Premier League as quickly as possible. Once it got there, his oligarchical hard-on was gone, and he was lusting after other accomplishments. This is the difference between accumulating pieces on a life-sized board game, and being an actual supporter as owner. An actual supporter would want Sheffield United to remain in the Premier League, to beat Sheffield Wednesday on any occasion they play by at least 3 goals, and for good measure come to dominate Manchester United so badly they finally concede they are not the true “United” in English football.
All of this is impossible in modern football though for a club like Sheffield United. So a 9th place finish when tapped for relegation last season may be a high watermark. But you never know what happens when a Saudi prince feeds a football club money. Maybe they get lucky and strike a couple spirit warriors that allow them to navigate a higher metaphysical plane. As it stands, maybe the Premier League was too much for them as they’re currently built, and that’s why the club has stuck with Chris Wilder as manager despite the bad start to the season. They know they’re current psychic place is slogging to back towards the top of the Championship table, and their peak existence is brief spells in the Premier League trying to claw out a mid-table finish. Damn, no wonder me as a Swans man loves the Blades – it’s essentially the same club in that sense.
Well, here are the 25 men who have metaphysically composed this current direction of the Blades. And the Football Metaphysics team also went out and acquired a couple of English voices to add to our mix. We are all anti-empire, and embrace a love-hate relationship with modern football, driven by distracting ourselves from the necessary but sometimes painful decline of the false greatness of western civilization. So welcome Dan and Jude to the mix, with myself and Neil, as Paul continues to nurse a lingering psychic hamstring injury. [RAVEN]

#1: CHRIS BASHAM (up 3 from #4 last time Sheffield United were metaphysically ranked on 15-Apr-2020, thus his first METAPHYSICAL STAR) – Sometimes in life, people have to know who they are and then just be that person rather than chasing some crazy notion of being a yachter or whatever the fuck the European sporting elite do when they are not sporting. You know, the fancy playboy players who hold yacht parties with titties and beer everywhere. Well, Chris Basham isn’t invited to those parties. That’s because Chris Basham is the guy who does all the dirty work, keeps the pitch clean, occasionally using English Catch as Catch Can wrestling holds to keep the enemy from scoring them goals. Red cards flying in his wake, Basham has accepted a life of brutality and hard times. He once was bounced from Newcastle United’s youth team and spent the next two years working at McDonalds. This is not a dude who is going to be a fashion icon, he is just a dude who worked at McDonalds and he’s still working at McDonalds in his heart because he remembers each fancy lad eating their fucking burgers and the simmering resentment of class consciousness the whole time, and so he cracks their heads on the pitch in the naked fervor of sport. Chris Basham knows who he is, and it is a McDonald’s worker shoving the rich kids faces into the fryer which is how you get those chicken nuggets. [NEIL]

#2: JOHN EGAN (up 3 from #5 last time) – Egan, along with Enda Stevens, forms the stubborn Irish backbone of the Blades defense. Much like the Blades, Egan has come from the lower levels. He actually was signed to a Premier League club – Sunderland at the time – when he first became a senior level player, though he never appeared for Sunderland at the time. Actually got loaned to Bradford City in 2014, and suffered a broken leg early on, which put him on the shelf for a year, and ultimately got him relegated to League One status with a Gillingham transfer, where he played at the same time that Sheffield United hit their lowest point in that most recent series of relegations. Like them, he clawed his way up, first to perennial Championship club Brentford, then joining the Blades to be part of their promotion year. He appeared in every league match last season and all but a few this season so far, and lack of defense hasn’t necessarily been their Achilles heel, as they’ve lost eight matches 1-0, including to Manchester City twice – a club known for being more than able to pile on some goals. Should they get relegated, Egan is just as likely to be the type to stay with the club as an elevated Championship club rather than get sold off to a lower-level Premier League club, though he’ll likely be on the short list for newly promoted clubs to pilfer talent from. [RAVEN]

#3: GEORGE BALDOCK (up 5 from #8 last time) – Younger brother of Reading striker Sam Baldock, who – about four years his sibling’s junior – had always played in the shadow of his brother, up until the past two seasons, when he’s been one tier above him. Both of them began with MK Dons, and combined have played a bazillion seasons between the top five tiers of English football. But Sam’s one stint at the top level, in 2018-19 with Brighton & Hove Albion, only got him two appearances in the league. Last season, after Sheffield United was promoted, George played in every Premier League match for the Blades, earning himself a reputation as key member of the squad’s defense. He’s missed a number of starts this season, suffering from a few dents and dings, and it looks like that means he’s going to join his brother back down in the Championship next season, where at least one of them has been all but one season of the past decade. [RAVEN]

#4: ENDA STEVENS (down 1 from #3 last time; also one previous metaphysical star with the club on 15-Jun-2019) – Another Irish cog in the Blades defense, natural born Irish too, from Dublin, where he played as a youth and professional first. I love how magic clubs sound in some places. His youth club was “Cherry Orchard” which sounds like the most wonderful club to fuck around, learning football metaphysics. And he peaked out in the Irish leagues with Irish heavyweight Shamrock Rovers, which also sounds pretty magical. Why do we get dumb derivative shit in America like Inter Miami or Houston Dynamo? Then again, when I think of magical sounding places in America, some of the most wondrous sounding spots are and were the notoriously wretched concentrations of urban poverty that are American housing projects. Places like Chicago’s Cabrini Greens or LA’s Nickerson Gardens. Maybe that’s the key to improving American soccer – having a league of large housing project clubs where kids learn the sport and realize they can get paid worldwide for a sport that’s probably not as consuming as major American sports. Of course, the NBA has as well-established groupie culture though, so basketball will always retain prominence. Has anybody ever done any deep data studies on the conventional attractiveness scale of football groupies in various domestic leagues? Because that might be important information to relate to my fake magical soccer league based in American housing projects. [RAVEN]

#5: OLIVER NORWOOD (up 1 from #6 last time) – The depth of football culture in England versus America is just so shocking, despite it making perfect sense. Norwood was a Burnley kid who got spotted by Manchester United scouts at the age of 6, joining the club’s youth system at age 7. Having “coached” kids that age in my small town American existence, I mostly tried to get them pointed in the right direction. I had one kid one time who never went after the ball, preferred skateboarding, and just wanted to do cartwheels. I told him he could do a cartwheel every time he stole the ball from the other team. He became a defensive threat at that point. Had another kid who never wanted to do shit, coming from a rough-looking family, so I asked him, “You ever see an old refrigerator just sitting out in the yard, in the way?” He laughed and said yeah. “I want you to be an old refrigerator. You don’t even have to kick the ball. Just any time the other team has the ball, go run in front of whoever has the ball, and get in their way like an old refrigerator.” The kid actually started doing it too, and laughing every time he clogged up the other team’s hopes. I guess there’s a trend there for me, in teaching hopeless kids to find a glimmer of hope in being a defensive obstruction for the progress of larger society. Thus Norwood being a fucking 7-year-old, whisked off to the Manchester United youth school is mind-boggling to me. And yet, for Norwood, even though this high-profile youthdom meant he played for their u-18 side, and he he did well enough to appear with the reserves and get a professional contract once he was old enough, he never once appeared for the senior club, not quite being good enough. Those youth academies suck up all the good English boys (well, Norwood is Northern Irish by his national team fealty, but has lived and played in England his entire life), the senior club is populated with international human resources imported from other locations. So the likes of Oliver Norwood drop a metaphysical level below the global elite, to places like Brighton, where Norwood was for a few seasons, which included getting loaned down to the Championship to Sheffield United on their 2018-19 season where they earned promotion. He was rewarded with a contract with the Blades, and has been a prominent fixture on the club’s starting XI sheet ever since, and is currently vice-captain for the squad. And while the club has been to slow to adapt to the psychic power of their salmon-colored kits this season, Norwood is one of the men who has had a resurgent form that’s helped them at least escape being an all-time worst Premier League club. So even if they don’t escape relegation, they have at least escaped being worse than 2007-08 Derby County, who only got 11 points, and had the horribly ominous -69 in goal differential that season. There is no worse goal differential in football metaphysics than a negative-69. [RAVEN]

#6: JOHN FLECK (up 1 from #7 last time) – Scotsman who came up with and played for Rangers for a number of years, so I imagine him and “Burn Dog” Oli McBurnie have knocked back a number of drinks together. It’s impossible for me to hear the name John Fleck though and not assume he’s a well-learned “free jazz” aficionado whose academic mastery of the subject matter never has translated into an easy and innate rhythm in his trumpet playing. But he’s trying hard, and seems like a nice guy, so you just let it go. We have easily overlooked how many well-meaning but shitty white-appearing jazz musicians have lost their side dinner crowd music hustles to this coronavirus pandemic. How are these guys to feel self-important without a captive audience to listen to their hyper-intelligent between-song banter? [RAVEN]

#7: DAVID MCGOLDRICK (up 2 from #9 last time) – Black Irish striker is such a strange and unique vibe, you always want it to succeed tremendously, but the forces of western civilization are against it. After a long career mired mostly in the Championship (has well over 300 appearances, and 75 goals at that level), the past two were McGoldrick finally getting to enjoy making it to the Premier League, being promoted on individual level along with his club. Sadly, that last Championship season, he netted 15 goals for the Blades, which might have led to lofty notions of exactly who McGoldrick is metaphysically, as he’s not equaled that prolific nature, though he’s does lead the particularly impotent club in goals this season. Between McGoldrick and Billy Sharp (who we will get to shortly), this is truthfully more of a club built to excel in the Championship. And despite that 9th place finish last season, I guess that doesn’t always translate to being good enough to survive in the Premier League. That being said, the club’s in good shape to be next season’s Norwich City in the Championship. It’s just sad they had to be this season’s replication of last season’s Norwich City in the Premier League. [RAVEN]

#8: JOHN LUNDSTRAM (up 3 from #11 last time) – Lundstram is one of the Blades’ English dudes with a more high profile history that’s supposed to be leading them into the next era. He played for the English national team at all youth levels up through u-20, but hasn’t ever cracked the main squad (and likely won’t, barring an injury-depleted friendly in the future). Lundstram was Sheffield United’s big signing when they were promoted to the Championship, looking to grow with the club, which happened fairly well up until this season. Interesting fact about Lundstram – as a youth, he came up through Everton’s system, having grown up in Liverpool, and has always remained a LFC supporter despite those Everton days. [RAVEN]

#9: DEAN HENDERSON (down 8 from #1 last time, thus one previous metaphysical star with the club on 15-Apr-2020) – Idea for a movie: Harry Redknapp eyes a return to management, proposing to hmm…let’s say Daniel Levy…that he base his squad around signing the Liverpool captain, the Man United sub goalie and a Sasquatch. Name of movie? Harry and the Hendersons. Remember that movie? Huh? No? Ah well, those with equally dodgy memories might also have forgotten that last season a bright, young goalkeeper impressed Premier League watchers with weekly high-level performances for Sheffield United who rode high in the table, declaring themselves the Kings of Yorkshire and mocking the likes of Barnsley, York City, Huddersfield and of course the clowns at Wednesday. Was it, like Bigfoot, all a myth? A team in cryptozoological form, believed to exist but merely something made up by a bunch of weirdos? It seems hard to countenance now that Sheffield United were ever really that good and Leeds’s Bielsa-driven revival has even ended their proud reign in Yorkshire. As for the goalkeeper, well he has all but disappeared, become something between a legend and a hoax. Some say he will replace David De Gea at Manchester United, some say he will rise again to overcome the force of malignant evil that is Pickford in goal for England, some even say he has gathered hitherto untold riches for a lad that we grab only slight glimpses of near fellow fantasy figure the elfin Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. I say Dean Henderson has mastered the brutish career of goalkeeping where renown can be won over a decade and lost in a couple of bad games. Play one incredible season on loan for Sheffield United, get a huge pay rise from parent club Manchester United and then hardly ever play. The pressure of being goalkeeper for England and/or Manchester United is ridiculous so why bother? Instead, let De Gea and Pickford look like the schmucks, let your reputation burgeon, get paid and chill, maybe have a few kids, take up gardening, phone up Baldock to reminisce about the good old times. Perhaps occasionally you will be required to get the gloves on and save a few things, maybe Nick Pope or some other loser will do it, who cares? Stay free of this terrible goalkeeping business young Henderson, you have done enough. [JUDE] 

#10: OLI MCBURNIE (up 2 from #12 last time) – I affectionately called McBurnie “Burn Dog” during his time with Swansea. He showed flashes of greatness as a big fish in a smaller pond at times in the Championship, and is such a hard ass goofball with his tiny shin guard wearing ass. What’s become painfully clear as he’s been with the Blades is that some folks are destined for a certain level of greatness, and globalism does not benefit them. Sure, Burn Dog excelled at the Championship, which with a football pyramid suggests he should also then have a chance to excel in the top flight. But he can’t, and probably never will. He’s just a simple-minded but extremely lovable Scottish boy who is right at that precipice, but ain’t ever gonna be a Premier League superstar. His peak is either going to be excelling at the Championship or being considered a detriment to a floundering bottom of the table Premier League club (like he’s seen now). This is all disappointing that we have to even project this scale of Sisyphean accomplishment myths to all footballers, because Burn Dog’s ideal situation personally would be to just slide back into Scotland, go play for Rangers, score a bazillion goals and be a club hero. And he could probably do that. He’s only 24, so I’m sure the notion he has to be a success in English football will hang over him for at least a few more seasons. But why the fuck not just go to Rangers now, get yourself a decade of service in there, and become a modern day club legend? What the fuck is the point of being mired in PL/Championship purgatory, bouncing between clubs like Swansea City and Sheffield United, and then more of the likes of Burnley or Norwich or god forbid fucking Newcastle, but never really being noteworthy in life? Fuck it man, let ol’ Burn Dog just go to his beloved Gers and be a superstar, at least until some angry Celtic defender slides into those unguarded shins cleat first in an injury time expressions of sectarian violence, down 3-1, on the wrong side of Glasgow. [RAVEN]

#11: AARON RAMSDALE (previously ranked #11 for Bournemouth on 15-Jan-2020) – When it comes to English football talent under the age of 25, there are two distinct classes. The first contains galaxy talents like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jadon Sancho, but also quite a lot of the mediocrities that get spat out of the uppermost echelons of the football-industrial complex. They chiefly comprise healthy, youthful, marketable, uncontroversial, grab-a-pic-for-the-’gram types who ooze #Hustlementality and a general air of competent banality. They stand out most when asked to step down a level, where they carry the air of a Faberge egg asked to perch on the shelves of a gun shop. The other, rapidly shrinking, group contains Aaron Ramsdale. Wayne Rooney was their figurehead; the golem of natural talent, scoffing crisps and gulping cordial before running back outside to play some more with his mates on the field. Brute force and will are their tools. The remarkable state of English football and its proclivity to some of the wildest gambles outside of r/wallstreetbets is that £18.5m can be spent on the goalkeeper who conceded the third most goals in the 19/20 season and shows little end to leaking. Fair enough, he’s just a pup in goalkeeping terms, and in consecutive years he’s been marshalling Championship defenders out of their depth. Part of the transfer was an emotional decision to restore Ramsdale to his patrimonial course: a product of the Blades Academy who set out into the world to defy those who would have him selected behind veteran sticksman Mark Howard (currently at Scunthorpe) via endless loans and the meaningless trundle of England youth internationals. To use a phrase much used by Neil and others: Ramsdale was bought to be a spirit warrior in an era where there’s no spirit available to capture. [DAN]

#12: JACK O’CONNELL (down 10 from #2 last time) – This dude has the same name and face of the actor Jack O’Connell so I can only assume they are the same person with spread out energy levels and shit. The actor Jack is infamous for playing shit of the earth characters like his turn in This Is England in which he played a skinhead named Pukey, or his sensational turn in the dirty English teen show Skins, where he played a fucking maniac named James Cook who was a self-destructive but beaten to the bone lovable, all drugs and car crashes and fucking until you die antihero in what was probably the darkest arc of that fucked up but vital show. He’s since made a name for himself as movie starish kind of dude, playing a stoic cowboy sort in the Netflix series Godless which was pretty good, but now he’s got himself on the defense for Sheffield United, playing next to Chris Basham who keeps telling him how much he hates the shitheads who eat at McDonald’s and, well, shit, he’s only played twice this season so maybe he was just doing some field work for a new role? That’s some raw dedication to his craft, and if he can commit to it a bit more, maybe Sheffield United won’t have to be flushed down the relegation toilet this year. This is just how Hollywood and sports work. [NEIL]

#13: SANDER BERGE – Every good football team has to have a Viking sort, someone to mind the middle and maybe stab a few weak Christians in the process, and Sander Berge is a literal Norse Viking, although he probably doesn’t make a show of the Viking thing both because raping and pillaging isn’t in good graces these days, and because the whole Viking mystique is so easily coopted by white hate groups both in Europe and over here in America.  But Sander Berge is a legit Norse Viking and those are nice to have for when shit gets real. His family also has people who have played basketball at an international level, so you know he is probably a rangy fucker, yes I just checked he’s 6’5” and I don’t know what else to tell you. This gentleman is a fucking Viking. [NEIL]

#14: BILLY SHARP (down 4 from #10 last time) – We use the term “spirit warrior” for a certain breed of footballer who transcends normal footballing and becomes a psychic entity for club, or sport, or self, or a combination of those three. Probably the most famous (and thus also infamous) spirit warrior football has seen is Diego Maradona, the man who personified the number 10, and also was a hated heel in England due to his hand of god goal in the World Cup. Diego ended up the epitome of himself, of a striker, and the pinnacle human example for multiple clubs, including the Argentine national team, Boca Juniors in Argentina, and Napoli in Italy. It’s pretty amazing he was so powerful a force he could become the face of so many different clubs like that. I say all this because in the past few months I’ve done some extensive #10 research, and if you list off the men in the Premier League who have scored the most goals for their club who are currently wearing that #10 kit, Billy Sharp is near the top of the list. He did not score those goals in the Champions League, or even the Premier League mostly, like the far more famous #10s like Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero. He didn’t even do it in a giant four or five season smorgasbord like a Sadio Mane. But I’m not sure any of those other three have crossed that indefinable threshold of being a spirit warrior either. Certainly, they are all much higher caliber players than Billy Sharp, but more so than them, Sharp is truly a spirit warrior force for this Sheffield United football club. And that, unfortunately, ties them to him as much as it does him to them. Sharp is 35 now, but he’s been a key part of the club’s ability to snatch a few actual points the past month or so. He also was a Sheffield boy, literally as a boy, born there, and a youth player there. And despite a few stints elsewhere as a professional, he’s always ended up back with his hometown club. When he came back in 2015, he left behind a Leeds United club at the Championship level, to go back to the Blades, who were then at their lowest point in decades. But ol’ Billy Sharp played in all but two matches over the next two league seasons, and poached, picked, and dazzled for 51 goals over the course of those two years, and they were back in the Championship. In the two years they spent there, he remained a workhorse, and was key to their promotion back to the Premier League, which he’d never played at with the club, despite multiple stints there. He spent two seasons with Southampton previously in the Premier League, but only had a pair of appearances in 2012-13 season to show for it. Billy Sharp got promoted as well. The club itself had notions of grandeur though, and Sharp saw a somewhat reduced role at times, both last season and the beginning of this one. Eventually, with the club’s spirit warrior being sidelined too long, the effects of that began to show up in that long stretch of frustrating results that anchored them to the bottom of the table this season. But Sharp has been key to their more hopeful form, even if they might be too far gone. He’s gotten five goals between Premier League and FA Cup play, where they find themselves perhaps to the outsider as a shock quarterfinalist, although the club has had a recent history of being known as giant-killers in the competition. And perhaps that’s where they – and Billy Sharp – flex still this season, as they look to be too far back in the riptide of points to remain a Premier League squad after this season. They travel to Chelsea next month, with a trip to Wembley Stadium for the semifinals there for the taking – a feat they’ve achieved four times already in the Premier League era. But never with Billy Sharp. I don’t know, maybe I’m out of line here, and thinking with my heart not my brain, but I’ve got a feeling that despite all that’s happened to the Blades this season, we’re gonna see Billy Sharp force his way into Wembley Stadium. I’m all for it, too. [RAVEN]

#15: ETHAN AMPADU – “Ethan Ampadu” is one of the most magical names in English football right now. Factor in the fact he’s Welsh (by way of Exeter city), and it’s even more magical. Sadly, he cut off his trademark dreadlocks that he wore for a while, which made him seem like a ridiculous little defensive midfielding wizard. He’s contractually obligated to Chelsea though, and has been loaned out to the high-level likes of RB Leipzig and now Sheffield United, so you can’t be having dreadlocks, not even a magical Welshman named Ethan Ampadu. Cut ‘em off and assimilate son; maximize the value of your human resource, which we will extract to our fullest, until you are useless to us. [RAVEN]

#16: BEN OSBORN (up 3 from #19 last time) – Osborn is just your most basically smiling Englishman with the most “has logical debates online” name one could hope for, thus I have to kinda hate on him even though I have no valid reason. Football metaphysics often times has nothing to do with you personally and is just the general accumulation of aesthetic and historic clutter around what you appear to be. [RAVEN]

#17: JACK ROBINSON – This dude is one of the youngest players ever to suit up for Liverpool, which he did when he was only 16 and Brendan Rodgers was on his way in and Luis Suarez had only considered eating people, but the Anfield pitch was too big a stage for Jack Robinson and he was soon loaned out like a prostitute to various shitty clubs who could use some quality meat. And Jack Robinson hasn’t really made a name for himself beyond that, which is troubling because he is threatened to be swallowed by Jackie Robinson, the first Black dude to play major league baseball, and that is a hell of a name to live up to, but also Jack Robinson is apparently a mythical name used to represent quickness, which is a whole hell of another thing to have to live up to. Basically, this guy has a whole lot of work to do to earn the name Jack Robinson, and if he doesn’t work for it, he’ll end up just another white jackass. That’s how they name them. [NEIL]

#18: LYS MOUSSET (down 3 from #15 last time) – A totemic figure of bustling brilliance during the unlikely success of the 19/20 season but now mostly seen sad-eyed in a big coat on the touchline. Rumours spread that in the 20/21 pre-season he’d “dropped his dinner on his big toe”, injuring him for a stretch until late November. Pathetic with desperation, Wilder threw Mousset on at the next possible moment, where he played every game with a steadily increasing apathy, culminating in getting angrily hauled off in an FA Cup game against Bristol Rovers in early January. His replacement, Oliver Burke, scored within a nanosecond of taking the field and Mousset hasn’t been seen in the red and white since. Of course this all reeks of a guy who wanted a better contract, who took a mutual strop with his manager, was thrown a bone in the slough of despond, and then cast back into the shit pit. I might be wrong and it might be that Mousset is the new Michu/Chimbonda of one inexplicably good season and then nada. I hope I am. I am not. [DAN]

#19: JAYDEN BOGLE – Bogle’s a young right back who came to the Blades from Derby County this past September. he made his Premier League debut for the club the week before Christmas, subbing in for Rhian Brewster, and scoring the first goal of the match, against Brighton & Hove Albion. The Gulls of course equalized, but the goal did give the Blades their second point of the season. That was a promising early sign for Bogle’s influence on the club. A second Premier League goal two weeks back equalized in a match with West Brom, and spirit warrior Billy Sharp added a go-ahead goal in the 73rd minute, for only their third win of the season. So Bogle’s already having a solid touch to the club’s stature. [RAVEN]

#20: OLIVER BURKE (previously ranked #23 for West Brom on 15-May-2018) – Some years ago, while Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan suggested that Scottish footballers were sadly lacking genetically in comparison to rival nations. This bizarre pseudo-eugenic intervention caused a moment of hilarity and was all but forgotten. However, Oliver Burke is almost certainly the consequence of a secret Scottish project to breed their own Gareth Bale. Nicola Sturgeon and Strachan with the aid of Sean Connery crossed two borders, sneaked into the Valleys and snatched some Bale DNA to combine with that of trusted Scottish stock (Ally McCoist) and bring raw wideman pace and power to their beloved nation. All seemed well when Burke emerged fully grown at Nottingham Forest and threatened to destroy the Championship with his physical gifts, earning the attention of energy drink behemoths RB Leipzig who doubtless saw in the meaty young Oliver a test subject for their next beverage. Despite an impressive fifteen million pounds transfer fee, things sadly began to flounder there for the lad and talk emerged from then Leipzig coach and future overseer of 9-0 hammerings Ralph Hassenhuttl that Burke lacked something in his ‘hard drive’. This was undoubtedly a Germanic nicety for ‘a bit simple’ which, though a little cruel, probably ended the Scottish Genetic Football Project before it had really begun. Since this ignominy, Burke has been fairly well travelled having short and largely uneventful spells at West Brom, Celtic and Alaves, before joining other footballers of size at Wilder’s Sheffield United. Thus far in his brief stay Burke has found it hard to impress in a Sheffield United that has struggled for confidence and form but a recent winning, albeit deflected, goal against Manchester United may well catalyse both team and player. Still only 23 years old, the opportunity is there for him to put a bit more information on the hard drive and become the player his physical gifts suggested in his Forest years. [JUDE]

#21: RHIAN BREWSTER – When England won the u-17 World Cup in 2017, it was widely known that although other England age groups had progressed well in that period, this group was the one the FA believed had real transformational promise. Some of that promise has begun to be realised – Phil Foden, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho have all become senior internationals and Emile Smith Rowe looks set to join them. For others of that age group such as Morgan Gibbs White and Ryan Sessegnon, the road has been a little more rocky, though hopes are still high. Brewster is perhaps the most curious and interesting case of the bunch. Top scorer in that World Cup, talk at his then club Liverpool was that he was the most exciting youth product the club had seen in some time. On the brink of breaking into the first team, with occasional appearances on the bench in the Premier League, it appeared all was bright for young Brewster. A brutal knee injury ended these hopes, cost him eighteen months of his career at a key stage and put the player on a less steady path. Even this was not enough to impact general belief in him and Liverpool had to scare off a number of top German sides who tried to get him to join them as part of the fetish for young Brits in the Bundesliga. Following recovery, he was unable to really make an impact at Liverpool, leading to a loan spell at Swansea under Steve Cooper, his England u-17 manager. Brewster thrived, scoring repeatedly in the Championship with a variety of goals from tap ins to absolute thunderbastards. It was this loan that led to a remarkable 23 million pounds transfer to Sheffield United where he has proceeded to do…..nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a thing, like you would not even notice he was there. At Swansea, Brewster was inclined to drift though games, uninvolved until key moments; at Sheffield United he is simply uninvolved. He looks like a racehorse who, having unseated his jockey, is running amidst the other horses, having a lovely time, wondering what the hell the others are so bothered about. Watching, it feels unthinkable that any club would have spent so much money on him and erstwhile German Brewster-fanciers are probably relieved that Covid and Brexit meant that taking anything across the English Channel into the Europe Union in the summer was problematic. Yet I do not want to dismiss the lad. Being a young centre forward is not easy, especially if your game is not based on pace. Much like previous England age group hope Tammy Abraham (and perhaps it seems Dominic Solanke), he would probably benefit from a more sustained spell in the Championship which, given the sorry plight of Sheffield United, he is quite likely to imminently get. [JUDE]

#22: MAX LOWE – This anonymous spy name sounding fucker is only 23 years old, yet somehow has already plied the sport for seven seasons with Derby County, which included multiple loans to Aberdeen in Scotland. He signed with the Blades this past summer’s delayed transfer season, and Lowe has been partial scapegoat for Sheffield United’s poor start, with manager Chris Wilder even saying to the media that Lowe was probably starting too early, and wasn’t ready for it. He got subbed at halftime against Leicester City early in December, and it took him almost two months to get another minute of time on the pitch during Premier League action, even without injury to justify this. [RAVEN]

#23: PHIL JAGIELKA (up 2 from last time; also previously ranked #24 for Everton on 15-May-2020) – The old warrior returned home. Jagielka came up with Sheffield United and only was pried away from his club when Sheffield United was sent down for being a shit club. The club wasn’t about to drag him down with them so they sent him on to Everton, where he made a name for himself as a stalwart defender for the better part of a decade, captain shit. As captain of Everton, he was a key piece for that squad as they hovered around their usual spot just outside the big boys table. He even managed to get some run with the English national team, and for the most part became an Everton institution. But, the thing with institutions is that they get old and eat up a lot of money and so Phil was bounced from the Everton that he helped make, and then chose to return to his first love at Sheffield United, where he retains an elderly presence, one that is for closure more than anything else. No matter what happens, you can always come home. [NEIL]

#24: KEAN BRYAN – Once the rest of the crew has cherry-picked their preferred blurbs to write, I take what’s left. I’m the clean-up man, putting in work to finish off the rest of the 25. But that means by the time I get to like a Kean Bryan, the whole project, in the moment, has descended into an internal mush of Port Vales and Gigg Lanes and Oldham Athletics and Harry Redknapps until my American brain is tapping out to the absurdity and pointlessness of it all. Why write so many words in an era when people would prefer you just share a couple memes? Why bother adding American input on a sporting entity we’re about 29th best in the world at? Fuck. Is Kean even a real name? How do the Bolton Wanderers field a starting eleven even if everybody is wandering off all the fucking time? I mean, I know Wolverhampton started using trained wolves to keep their wanderlust players on the pitch, but I haven’t heard of any shit like that from Bolton. Is that even legal, the use of wolves to keep men playing football? Is it even playing if they are being paid and the expectation of their labor is attached, whether they want to “play” or not? It’s all too much by the time we get to the end of it, but that’s just how metaphysics works. It wears you out; but after a nice little Andy Capp session on the sofa, preferably late afternoon so it gets dark while you’re turned into the back cushions like a kitten nestling into a warm den, you feel recharged again. [RAVEN]

#25: CALLUM ROBINSON (down 9 from #16 last time; also previously ranked #23 for West Brom on 15-Aug-2020) – Robinson is the rare case of an upgrade via downgrade. Last season, he was struggling for time and form in his first season with Sheffield United, so got loaned down a tier to West Brom, where he played a small part in their automatic promotion. He’s by no means lit it up this season in his return to the Premier League, but he’s done better with West Brom than he did last season with the Blades. Of course, both clubs look fairly solid bets for relegation regardless, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. [RAVEN]

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