BILLY SHARP is like a fine wine … the more he ages, the more he delights.
The Sheffield United striker celebrates his 37th birthday on Monday and is still doing it for the Blades.
Sharp needs to net one more to reach the landmark 250 career league goals and he can do it today in the Championship derby clash at Rotherham.
And, despite his age, he wants to celebrate his 38th birthday as a Premier League player.
And there is every chance that will happen with Paul Heckingbottom’s men 12 points clear and a game in hand of third-place Middlesbrough.
But how does Sharp, with his status as a club legend already secured, continue to be motivated to train hard every morning and punish his body in the unforgiving second tier.
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He told SunSport: “I might be 37 on Monday but nothing has changed for me. Since I hit my 30s I looked at it as just a number and feel fit and strong as I did when I turned 30.
“It’s true I changed a couple of things in my lifestyle, in the way I went about things, and that has helped me still keep going now.
“I still have a few years left in me and hope to keep achieving things for Sheffield United.
“There are some personal accolades I’d like to achieve — my 250th league goal is coming up. There are a couple of people for me to catch in the all-time Sheffield United top scorers.
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“But, collectively, I want to get promoted and if I do that it’ll be my third promotion as captain of Sheffield United, which would be unreal.
“I’m not too sure if any other club captain in their history has done that.”
Sharp currently stands seventh in the all-time top Sheffield United scorers although two more would take him past Fred Tunstall’s 129.
It seems impossible that Sharp will get anywhere near the staggering 201 goals Harry Johnson netted between 1919 and 1930 — although he will fancy his chances of catching Doc Pace’s 140 and Jimmy Dunne’s 143, which would take him to fourth top scorer ever.
The Blades striker has found himself playing more of a supporting role this term, coming off the bench as much as he has started — after recovering from a calf injury that saw him miss the end of last season.
He said: “When I came back from injury, I was on the bench to start with and then when I started my first game back at Boro I did my ankle. That set me back a little bit.
“But I managed to win my place back in the team. Oli McBurnie got injured and I chipped in with a couple of goals.
“Whatever role I play, I want to make sure I’m doing my bit for the team and feel I’ve done that. In the last eight games that I’ve started, we’ve won seven of those and drawn the other.
“But the great thing about this team is despite all the injuries we’ve had whoever has come in has done a great job. Daniel Jebbison has stepped in up front and got a couple of goals.
“This is a strong squad and that’s why we’ve done so well.”
But despite the cracking opening half of the season, Sharp has played enough in the Championship to know nothing can be taken for granted.
He points to how Nottingham Forest climbed from the bottom of the table last season to clinch promotion — beating the Blades in the play-offs en route to the final.
But the Blades ace says the team are not focussed on their gap with Boro. They want to target catching Burnley to win the title.
Sharp said: “We must maintain that gap with third of course but I’m not too scared to say it: we want to win the league.
“We’re in a great position so it’s up to us to keep winning games until the end of the season.”
And while everyone to a man has been impressive for the Blades this season, two players who have really kicked on are Iliman Ndiaye and on-loan Manchester City kid James McAtee.
Sharp said: “James has played in a few different positions for us and had a tough start to his career. I think it was Luton away, a tough place to go and he learned a lot from that game. He has come on strong since the World Cup finished.
“He has chipped in with goals, assists and plays week-in, week-out. I’m sure he is delighted with the way it’s going at the minute. Hopefully he can stay fit and help us get promoted as well.
“And Iliman has been our star player — scoring 10 goals this season already and he’s been special. We saw glimpses of it last season but this season he has kicked on and added more to his game and I’m sure there were people interested in signing in last month and will be again this summer.
“But hopefully he can help us get promoted and then he might as well spend another year with us in the Premier League.
“Make no mistake, he will play at the highest level because he’s a special talent.”
And what will the future hold for Sharp once he finally does decide to hang up his boots?
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He said: “I’ll do my coaching badges. I want to step up into management, whenever that will be I’m not sure. I want to put myself in the best position to manage.
“I want to learn my trade and that is what I want to do after I quit. Maybe one day I’ll manage Sheffield United.”
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