It would be hard to find a current British footballer with a more polarised reputation amongst the supporters of two different clubs than ex-Sheffield United midfielder John Lundstram. Departing Bramall Lane on bad terms last summer after an extended contract standoff, Lundstram has enjoyed a remarkable first season north of the border with Rangers.
Bemoaned by Blades, idolised at Ibrox, Lundstram stands just 90 minutes away from creating European history as Rangers prepare for the Europa League semi-final second leg against RB Leipzig tonight.
Bemoaned by Blades
For fans of United, Lundstram’s success in Scotland has come largely as a surprise.
“I’ve seen quite a lot of Rangers’ European games and at times it’s like watching a completely different player,” says diehard Blades fan Hal.
“I must say I am surprised he’s adapted to life so quickly and well north of the border with Rangers,” the co-host of podcast Sheff United Way added.
Making 120 appearances for Sheffield United between 2017 and 2021, Lundstram enjoyed some great times at the Blades as part of the side which won promotion to the Premier League in 2019.
The Scouse midfielder went on to become one of the team’s stars in their maiden season in the top flight, scoring five goals as the Blades achieved a commendable 9th-placed finish.
It was during United’s second season in the Premier League, which ultimately ended in relegation, when his reputation with the club’s supporters soured as he became embroiled in protracted contract negotiations before eventually leaving in the summer of 2021.
Lundstram’s attitude and commitment to the club during these final months has been called into question by Blades fans.
Jason Holyhead, freelance writer and author of Sheffield United book Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money, outlines: “In his early days at United he was pretty good and most fans liked him, but then he refused to sign a new deal. From that point onwards, his effort and attitude was appalling in my opinion.”
Idolised at Ibrox
Fast forward twelve months, and the supporters of Lundstram’s current employers have markedly more complimentary things to say about the 28-year-old.
After a tricky start to life in Glasgow under the auspices of fellow Liverpool born manager Steven Gerrard, Lundstram has developed into a key cog in new boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s system.
Jonny McFarlane, Project Editor at The Rangers Review, says Lundstram has benefited from a difference in tactical approach implemented by Dutchman van Bronckhorst.
Jonny says: “Under Steven Gerrard, Lundstram was almost straight-jacketed by the burden of information and automation expected as part of a midfield shape that was largely focused on covering for the rampaging full backs.
“In van Bronckhorst’s team he has a lot more freedom and responsibility.”
Lundstram’s newfound form and confidence under his new manager has enabled him to grow into one of Rangers’ key players, and increasingly one of the favourites of the club’s ardent supporters.
“For a long time, Rangers supporters have lacked a player that they feel runs through brick walls for them. Lundstram is that type of player,” says Joshua Barrie, a writer for The Rangers Review and Sky Sports News contributor.
“As well as his technical ability, Lundstram is a leader in the middle and the supporters love that,” Joshua adds.
It is Lundstram’s performances in the Europa League which have particularly reputation-enhancing.
Awarded the club’s Goal of the Season for his left-footed strike in a famous victory for the Gers at the Westfalenstadion against Borussia Dortmund, Lundstram has shone in both midfield and defence during Rangers’ outstanding European campaign.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) April 24, 2022
Jonny credits Rangers manager van Bronckhorst’s tactical acumen and Lundstram’s versatility as being pivotal to the team’s success in Europe.
“The Dutchman’s decision to utilise him as both a defender and a midfielder that can switch roles with fluidity is in large part a reason for the club’s deep run in the Europa League.”
“I think you could argue he’s been Rangers’ most important player in Europe,” Joshua also suggests.
“An absolute diamond of a kid”
This recent defensive deployment of Lundstram at Rangers is something which doesn’t come as a shock to the man who first discovered his talent.
First laying eyes on Lundstram as a six-year-old playing in a local seven-a-side boys club in Merseyside, former Everton Head of Academy Recruitment Martin Waldron always believed the youngster would grow into a great defender as opposed to a midfielder.
Martin said: “I always thought he was a top-drawer defender as a young player. He played there until his teens, when he was moved into midfield as coaches felt he wasn’t going to be big enough.
“I think this was a mistake. It’s no surprise to me to hear he’s been doing well in defence for Rangers. Who knows where he would have ended up now if he’d played at centre-back earlier.”
Martin says he has watched Lundstram’s career blossom from afar with keen interest, having always believed in his ability to become a professional.
“John was an absolute diamond of a kid. He was a tough player and fully committed, but off the pitch he always liked to have a laugh and joke.
“I was really made up when he played in the Premier League for Sheffield United. I was proud of him doing that and I’m now proud of what he’s doing up in Scotland too,” Martin said.
Rangers take on German side Red Bull Leipzig at Ibrox Stadium in the second-leg of the Europa League semi-final at 8pm tonight, with Lundstram and his teammates seeking to overturn a one-goal deficit to book the Gers a place in a showpiece final in Seville on 18th May.
For the man who scouted him as a primary school-boy over 20 years ago, watching Lundstram crowned as a European champion would be a real source of pride.
“It really would be amazing if he achieved that. You just want to see the kids you work with have a career in the game, and to win things like that is extra special,” Martin declares.