James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Vital tasks for 2016

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The New Year is fast approaching and so, other than winning football matches of course, it’s time to consider five things Sheffield United can do to improve their prospects in 2016 and beyond.

Establish a settled midfield: With Billy Sharp, Matt Done and Conor Sammon among their attacking options, United will not suffer from a shortage of goals. Che Adams and Marc McNulty, when he returns from a loan spell at Portsmouth, both represent excellent long-term prospects. Although the defence has come under scrutiny at times, there have been games when Nigel Adkins’ back four would have benefited from better protection. Chris Basham, Paul Coutts and Dean Hammond are all fine players but, despite the latter’s ability to cover huge amounts of ground, the midfield sometimes appears to lack ‘legs.’ And, given Jose Baxter’s continued absence, a truly creative edge too. Florent Cuvelier, when the Liverpudlian is unavailable, could possibly fill this void in the future.

Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United

Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United

Construct a solid, permanent systems, behind the scenes: Managers, and there have been far too many of them at Bramall Lane of late, have effectively built their own scouting and recruitment structures after taking charge. So, when they leave, so does much of the support staff and the whole cycle starts over again. United must take ‘ownership’ of these key facets themselves. Yes, always allow managers to have the final say on signings. But ensure the correct support structures are, come what may, always in place. Everyone, coaches included, would benefit. United are often wrongly criticised for not spending enough money. They have spent it. Fortunes in fact. But, largely due to the type of churn taking this step would help avoid, on the wrong things.

Ensure incoming players are injury free: United’s squad, by Adkins’ own admission, is too big. Partly because, through no fault of the present regime, too many incoming transfers in the past have arrived with chequered fitness records. When they require treatment, a replacement is required.

Reaffirm their identity: There are plenty of ways to play football. Long ball, short ball or a mixture of both. Trends, like ‘gegenpressing’ come and go. Okay, money helps. But the most successful sides, outside of the top-flight’s ‘big four’ at least, are those who decide on a style and then stick to it. It is precisely this type of dogmatic approach which helped Swansea City catapult through the leagues. Managers at the Liberty Stadium have to suit the club’s philosophy. The club doesn’t bend to suit them. So, when there is a change of coach, chaotic recruitment processes seldom ensue.

Give the manager time to overhaul his playing staff: Barring any unforeseen disasters or diplomatic incidents behind the scenes, Adkins must be provided with a near cast-iron guarantee that he will be afforded at least two or three more transfer windows to perform this task. Kevin Blackwell was possibly the last occupant of the Bramall Lane hotseat who could truly say ‘that’s my squad.’ Yes, it will be hugely disappointing if United do not achieve promotion this season. But, by treating Adkins with respect and patience, they can reduce the temptation to make ill-considered purchases. Strategies are always more effective than sticking plasters.