There is little that will excite the Irish football fan ahead of the 2019/20 Premier League season more than the potentially career defining season that awaits Irish centre-back John Egan, of newly promoted Sheffield United. Egan, who plays what can simply be described as a sweeper role, in the back 3 of The Blades’ defence will almost certainly be required to have the best season of his career as he is set to play at the heart of the Sheffield United defence in their first campaign in the top flight of English football in 12 years.
Those familiar with Sheffield United’s unique tactical set up under coach Chris Wilder from their successful promotion campaign of the 2018/19 Championship season, will be familiar with the distinctive way in which the two centre-back’s flanking the reliable sweeper, Egan are used in The Blades’ offense. The left and right centre back of the Sheffield United defense, usually Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham, were given a free license to maraude forward, as we would usually see a wing back behave, in Wilder’s system last season.
The attacking, wide centre-back’s of Wilder’s system undoubtedly received the majority of the plaudits from Championship analysts last season, however, the disciplined role of Egan in staying back and ‘minding the house’ in such an expansive, attacking system, which also left Sheffield United with the best defensive record of the previous Championship season, surely deserves just as much praise.
Egan, who is required to maintain his position in the centre of the pitch and play the role of the ‘last lifeline’ between the attacker and the goalkeeper, arguably exhibits the most footballing intelligence in the Sheffield back 3 due to the nature of his role in the team, and the stats back up his suitability for this role. Last season, Egan was the centre back with the highest pass success percentage in the team, as well as the highest long ball success percentage, which illustrates the ball-playing ability he holds which allows him to successfully occupy such a pivotal position. On top of that, Egan boasted more clearances per game than both of his teammates in the centre of the defence, showing his effectiveness in the slightly deeper role.
Despite the encouraging form of Egan from last season, there will certainly be question marks surrounding how he, along with the entire Sheffield United team, who were playing in League One only three seasons ago. This season will be the 26-year-old’s first opportunity at Premier League football following his release from Sunderland in 2014 before making a first team appearance, and subsequent drop down the divisions.
Egan has played in every tier of the Football League structure since his loan to League 2 Southend United in the 2013/14 season, and, after five years of graft in the lower leagues, has managed to claw his way back to the top flight. The steady rise of the former Sunderland youth player back to the Premier League is an admirable, and potentially remarkable story should he adapt well to life in the Premier League, and following his rise up the leagues, you can be sure that he is aware of the monumental nature of the opportunity in front of him to prove himself in England’s top-flight among some of the best in the world.
With only 4 international caps under the belt of the Cork native as of this moment, all of which have come in international friendly matches, 2019/20 could be a very important, career-defining season for John Egan. He has played in an era where his competition for game time in the Irish national team’s defence has included the likes of Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Richard Keogh and Kevin Long, along with recently retired Irish legend John O’Shea, all of whom have been playing at a higher level and ultimately have prevented Egan from getting much of a look-in when it comes to the Irish national team up to this point.
However, with crucial Euro 2020 qualifying games on the horizon for Mick McCarthy’s boys in green, and with this coming season looking likely to be one in which the Cork man will be a key component of Sheffield United’s team, now could end up being just the right time for John Egan to begin to make a name for himself in the Premier League, and force himself into the Irish national team picture. The resilient centre-back will certainly be one to closely monitor for all Irish football fans as well as Mick McCarthy and his team this season.