Michael Tonge says he felt unwanted by Sheffield United when he left for Stoke City in 2008.
Tonge was signed by the Blades as a 16-year-old following his release from the Manchester United academy. The midfielder went onto play 280 times for the club, winning promotion to the Premier League with them in 2006.
Yet 12 months after their relegation back to the Championship, Tonge left Bramall Lane. Newly promoted Stoke wanted the former England Under-21 international.
Despite his strong ties with United and having signed a new contract after they went down, manager at the time, Kevin Blackwell, made it clear Tonge wasn’t wanted.
“I just got a call. I bombed it over to Sheffield. Kev Blackwell was there. I had a chat with him and was expecting him to give his opinion on it,” the 37-year-old told Under The Cosh.
“Basically all he said was; ‘Listen, I don’t want you to go, but I’ve been told not to persuade you to stay’.
“With them saying that it sort of made my decision for me. You’re thinking; ‘I’m not really wanted here’.”
Could Michael Tonge have left Sheffield United sooner?
Tonge broke into the Blades first team under Neil Warnock, with the 2002/03 season truly thrusting him into the limelight.
That campaign United not only reached the playoff final – losing 3-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers – but also the semi-finals of the FA Cup and League Cup.
Arsenal beat them 1-0 in the former, while they ran Liverpool close in the latter. Tonge scored twice as they beat the Reds 2-1 in the first leg, although a 2-0 second leg defeat at Anfield eventually knocked them out.
Clearly Liverpool liked what they saw, though.
“Gerard Houllier was the manager and I think like a lot of teams do, they just sort of monitor players,” Tonge continued.
“I think I must have been on their radar, but unfortunately for me I think he got the tic-tac (sack) not long after.”