When he signed in 2014, few Sheffield United fans could have imagined Chris Basham as being key to any success the club would have.
A free transfer after being released by Blackpool, Basham arrived under Nigel Clough. It was a time of high player turnover at Bramall Lane. Basham was seen, at the time, as being nothing more than another useful squad player.
His first season saw him trapped between playing centre-back and central midfield. Clough seemingly liked the fact he could use Basham anywhere in his team and still get maximum effort. However, there won’t be many Blades fans out there who can say they saw Basham as the answer to any midfield problems the club had.
He enjoyed a decent first year in S2. A goal in the breathless play-off semi-final second-leg against Swindon rounding the campaign off for Basham.
Basham’s stock continued to rise as Nigel Adkins took over. While that spell under Adkins is forgettable for more than one reason, Basham was one of few players to emerge with any credit. Then, along came Chris Wilder. Basham’s career wouldn’t be the same again.
Finding his place
As Wilder took to building his own squad and exerting his influence on proceedings at Bramall Lane, it was clear he saw something in Basham.
Wilder’s inventive 3-5-2 formation saw ‘Bash’ moved to a right-sided centre-back role. His energy, work-rate, and willingness seemingly putting him in pole position to play that role. It worked too, Wilder had seemingly finally cracked the issue of what was Basham’s best position.
That’s not to say he wasn’t used in central midfield throughout the season but it was clear he revelled in that back three. He built up a superb understanding with a revitalised Kieron Freeman that season as the Blades were promoted.
Championship? No problem
Basham was awarded a new deal by Wilder. Reward for a series of fully committed performances and being one of the key men for the Blades. Despite this, there were once again some questions over Basham’s ability to step back up to Championship football.
As usual, he answered them in emphatic fashion. A sound season in their first year back in the second-tier was followed by the promotion-winning campaign of last year. It was during this season, that Basham proved to be as crucial as any other player in the United squad.
He got his crowning moment in the win at Leeds United. Powering forward from his centre-back position, Basham fired low into the corner at Elland Road. The rest, as they say, is history.
Premier League prowess
As per the previous year, there were some questions over whether Basham would retain his place as a first-team regular. The Premier League is a different kettle of fish. Would he have the defensive capabilities to deal with the added quality? Could he keep ploughing forward as he had done?
The answer to those questions is a resounding, yes. Basham has adapted with ease. But for a mistake against Leicester and a mistimed header at West Ham, Basham has been near enough faultless.
His defensive and attacking stats back it up too. A quick look at one of the top right-backs in the league in Kyle Walker shows how far Basham has come.
The Man City star is, of course, ahead on goal and assists. However, in defensive terms, there is no comparison. Basham eclipses Walker with ease when it comes to tackles won (16 to 5), interceptions (19 to 5), and aerial battles won (35 to 12). He’s also played more forward passes than Walker, a key indicator in how Basham helps start attacks for United.
It’s worth noting too that Walker is a right-back. In fact, he’s given more or less license to roam as a wing-back for City. Basham, on the other hand, is still operating from his central defensive role. City are also one of the most ball-dominant teams in the league. Basham does fall short in terms of crosses (17 to 8 in Walker’s favour), but again, this is a central defender.
Basham popped up in the box at the weekend as George Baldock equalised for the Blades. If this isn’t an example of how he has taken to the Premier League task, nothing is. There is no fear. No change of style. A player once written off as a youngster and, at times, written off by some Blades fans, is proving he can more than hold his own in England’s top-flight.
The fact that Chris Basham can even be compared to someone like Walker is a testament to his performance levels, hard work, and Chris Wilder’s master tactical plan at United.