Richard Stearman says the experience of leaving Sheffield United in January was “gut-wrenching”.
After two-and-a-half years at Bramall Lane, Stearman was released by mutual consent and joined Huddersfield Town on a free transfer.
The defender had become an increasingly peripheral figure for the Blades, having initially been a key player when he first signed from Fulham in 2017.
At the time United had just been promoted from League One, while Stearman was someone who’d played 77 times in the Premier League.
That first season the 32-year-old was first choice in the centre of Chris Wilder’s three man defence. That role would change in 2018/19 after the club record signing of John Egan.
Stearman still played 17 times during that promotion campaign, however. Perhaps the defining moment for the centre-back was scoring the winner against Middlesbrough – although he was later famed for his promotion celebrations.
Stearman failed to make a single appearance in the top flight, though, and was limited to cup competitions only. Which was why, despite being a popular figure at the club, his exit at the beginning of the year seemed inevitable.
How Stearman reacted to leaving
Having created a stronger bond with the Blades than he expected, it was a tough decision for Stearman to leave.
“It was gut-wrenching, to be honest,” he told the Inside United podcast. “I’d fallen in love with the place, I loved the dressing room, the staff, walking out at Bramall Lane. I wanted to still be a part of it.
“I wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked. But the manager was brilliant with me – as he has been throughout my time at the club. I wasn’t told to leave. He just said; ‘if something comes up that you like, obviously your contract is running down, keep a dialogue and you’re welcome to leave. You’ve been a fantastic servant to us and we won’t stand in your way.’
“It was an emotional day leaving the training ground, leaving all the lads and saying goodbye to all the staff.
“It was probably my time and it was a natural conclusion, I think.”
Stearman signed an initial 18-month contract with Huddersfield and has immediately become an important player. He made 10 league appearances before the Championship was indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.