James Shield's Sheffield United Column: One big deal and a welcome step in the right direction
Plenty of things still need to happen before Sheffield United can call themselves a properly functioning football club.
Which sounds and seems absolutely ridiculous given the fine work, both on and off the pitch, which has been completed at Bramall Lane over the past two seasons. Promotion has been delivered, a challenge for the play-offs nearly completed and the team, the overwhelming majority of which are now tied to long-term contracts, are producing the type of football that might persuade Prince William to get-off his well-upholstered bottom and watch a match rather than quaff a few Pimm’s at his brother’s wedding reception. Manager Chris Wilder and, to be fair in the circumstances, United’s hierarchy should take a bow.
News that Wilder has signed an improved an extended deal is yet more cause for celebration. But the ownership wrangle between HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Kevin McCabe still needs resolving. Both own 50 per cent of United’s parent company and both want to buy-out the other and take full control.
So although developments surrounding Wilder must be welcomed, it should also be remembered he requires a resolution in the boardroom instead of a truce to ensure continued progress. McCabe and Prince Abdullah should, therefore, be applauded for setting whatever differences they have aside, addressing his situation, calculating a budget and establishing a framework which allows him to work.
Still, as the 50-year-old’s decision to stay illustrates, despite plenty of interest from elsewhere, not only has he been good for United but United have been good for him. They might not be cash rich but, after battling the odds at places like Halifax and Northampton Town, moving to Bramall Lane has provided Wilder with an impressive stage upon which to showcase his talents. He will also have noticed, as many of his counterparts fall like nine pins, that the time his standing as a lifelong supporter affords him seldom exists elsewhere. Sunderland, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, who are all known to have monitored Wilder’s situation in recent months, are fine institutions in their own right. But the promise of a hefty transfer budget should, when there are further expressions of interest, be weighed-up against the importance of love, respect and affection. Wilder and United, for all their faults, suit each other perfectly. It should also be noted the club’s weaknesses are far out-weighed by its qualities, personality and strengths.
Last month, when he urged Prince Abdullah and McCabe to end their tug-of-war and complained about a lack of “clarity” behind the scenes, Wilder demonstrated a sharp political mind. Drawing on the experience he gained at The New Shay, Sixfields and even Oxford, where there were also issues with the hierarchy, United’s most public figurehead ensured an issue which had previously been dismissed in some quarters as journalistic mischief-making was finally taken seriously. Despite recent developments, although a crisis has been averted, it still needs addressing to guarantee there is no repeat sometime in the future.