Richard Cresswell's arrival at Bramall Lane was not universally welcomed by Blades fans, but manager Kevin Blackwell considered it an important move in forming his squad at the start of the 2009/10 season. Blackwell had previously signed him whilst in charge at Leeds, pipping United to his signature.
He signed on loan from Stoke City in September 2009 and was welcomed by booing from some of the Bramall Lane crowd as he came on as a substitute in a 3-3 draw with Ipswich Town. His Wednesday past, albeit a brief and largely unsuccessful spell 10 years earlier, was a bone of contention with some of the Blades support. But like Derek Geary, Leigh Bromby and others before him, he won over the majority of the Lane faithful. After his second appearance for the Blades, the following weekend Cresswell talked of the need to
"show them that I'll give 110% every time I pull on a shirt".
He more than backed up those words with his actions.
Doing his best was something you never doubted with Cresswell. He would have played wherever he was asked with no lack of effort and commitment and at times with great physical sacrifice. In what turned into a disastrous home game versus Oldham Athletic in 2012, an injury to Lecsinel Jean-Francois and the sending off of both Harry Maguire and Matt Lowton saw him play at emergency full back.
Scoring on his first start for the Blades in a 1-1 draw at home to Doncaster Rovers, Cresswell crashed into the post, damaging ribs in the process, but played on through the pain barrier.
"I've got bruised ribs, but you take that for a goal don't you?"
There was also the time he was bloodied and bandaged, like a modern day Terry Butcher, in the Sheffield Derby or when he was playing with broken nose, broken toe and damaged shoulder when we were suffering a shortage of striking options. He played in a manner and with a commitment that the youngsters coming through would do well to note.
Coming into the Blades side he was often deployed wide, much to the frustration of many fans who preferred to see a trickier and pacier wide man than the workman like Yorkshireman. Blackwell argued that Cresswell was used to playing out wide, he had been deployed wide at Stoke, but many Blades fans believed he was a striker and should be utilised as a target man. Blackwell persisted with Darius Henderson.
The frustration at what was a square-ish peg in a round hole was more directed at the manager rather than the player. It was hard to criticise when a player was seemingly not in his best position. When at Stoke, commenting on being played wide left, Cresswell said;
"I do my best, and I am quite a fit lad so I get through quite a bit of mileage".
He continued in that manner in the red and white stripes of United.
After initially signing on loan he then signed a 1.5 year contract in the January and ended the 2009/10 season as United's top scorer, scoring 14 goals in 34 appearances. This was encouragement enough for the club to offer him a longer contract and that summer signed a deal that gave him a further 3 years.
In a disrupted season with managerial changes and huge turnover in playing personnel, United stumbled to relegation in 2010/11; Creswell contributing 5 goals in 36 games. But it was the arrival of Danny Wilson and a fluid style of play that enabled Cresswell to shine, as the perfect foil for Ched Evans. As United just failed to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt, 10 goals in 51 appearances does little justice to the effort and work rate of Cresswell's contribution; running the channels, holding up the ball to bring Evans and United's free running wide players into the game.
Some will still argue that he wasn't good enough, both at time and I have read comments on twitter since his departure was announced, but to that I would say they are judging him unfairly and reflecting factors largely out of his control. Firstly, where he was deployed for some of his time at United, secondly his rumoured salary.
His wages caused some resentment from Blades fans who used this as a basis to judge his contribution and the contribution of many of a highly paid squad who were struggling on the pitch in his first couple of seasons. In a side many would consider overpaid for what they achieved, the judgement of Cresswell has worsened, with the decline of the club's league status. His portrayal as a problem (one of several) for a club trying to reduce a wage bill and meet Financial Fair Play limits could have seen him scapegoated. Thankfully, I think he escaped in the end.
Last summer, it appeared both Cresswell and Nick Montgomery were not being played due to their high wages. Still under contract and with significant salaries that other clubs would be reluctant to pay, options were limited for player and club. Whilst the club facilitated a move to Australia for Montgomery, Cresswell was appointed player-coach allowing the club to apply only half of his (reportedly five figure weekly) wage to the salary cap. Allowing United more leeway in the newly applied FFP rules. How much coaching he did, only those at Shirecliffe know?
Last season saw his opportunities limited by injuries and better options being available and whilst you could never fault his effort, it was becoming increasingly clear that the mind was willing, but the body wasn't able. He still tried to run the channels, he was still a willing worker and put his body on the line, but he had lost what pace he had. A loan spell at the end of season saw 2 goals in 5 appearances, before caretaker manager Chris Morgan called for all hands on deck at Bramall Lane. Not that he was needed on the pitch.
A permanent return to Bootham Crescent to end a career that has gone full circle appears a good move for all parties. A step down in level might prolong his playing career as his brain might carry him through when his legs cannot. It would also be sensible for Nigel Worthington to utilise him on the training ground and with younger players.
Cresswell personifies a time when United thought throwing big (for Championship) wages at players signed from Premier League clubs was a route out of the Championship. In the end it was a route out the way they never anticipated and the inability to sell such players has crippled the club in the years that have followed. He was part of that downturn in fortunes, but I can't help feeling that with a few more Richard Cresswells in the team United wouldn't find itself in the position it does now.
All the best Cressy and thank you.