Readers of a certain vintage will remember the characters Stan and Pam Herbert from the sketch show Harry Enfield and Chums.
For those who don’t, they were an affluent middle-aged couple who, in exaggerated Black Country accents, used to delight in telling people: “We are considerably richer than yow!”
I’m increasingly reminded of them whenever I hear supporters of Championship clubs discussing how Sheffield United might fare in the second-tier next season. Once, folk took pride in their team’s ability to develop talent or pick-up bargains in the transfer market. Now, in many cases at least, it seems people prefer to brag about the size of their owner’s wallets instead.
Admittedly, as Chris Wilder’s team prepare for Sunday’s curtain-call against Chesterfield and their title-winning season draws to a close, the financial landscape of the English Football League’s premier competition has changed beyond all recognition since United last featured in it six years ago. Forty-thousand pound a week pay packets are no longer uncommon. Some of its members no longer think anything of spending £10m to sign a player.
That’s all well and good and great if you can afford it. (Although, judging by their balance sheets, many of those splashing the cash probably can’t). But it is not the only way to achieve success.
United, as Wilder has acknowledged, will have to invest greater sums of money in their squad if they are to compete with the likes of Aston Villa, Derby County and Norwich City. However, listening to some of his comments since first promotion and then the League One title were secured earlier this month, he is clearly going to take a more refined approach. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is great. Because intelligence will always get the better of avarice.
United, it must be remembered, have achieved better results on a smaller budget since Wilder’s appointment. John Fleck, who is eminently capable of performing a division above, was signed on a free. Mark Duffy too.
Jack O’Connell and Samir Carruthers, who also possess the skill sets to flourish there, both arrived for nominal sums. The same goes for James Hanson, Daniel Lafferty and, to a lesser extent, goalkeeper Simon Moore.
Perspicacity, particularly when it comes to a target’s contractual situation, strategic thinking and a clear sense of purpose have allowed United to control costs by getting ahead of the curve. Those qualities should enable them to build on the success of the past 11 months and give those with deeper pockets a real run for their money. Which, and maybe I’m a shade old fashioned, would be a huge source of pride.
Pounds, shillings and pence help. But knowledge builds lasting power.