After a month of claim, counter-claim and talk about targets, the prospect of finally talking football must have seemed like a blessed relief.
But, having taken charge of a club where the politicking can be incessant, Nigel Adkins will not have been surprised to spend the first part of yesterday’s media briefing discussing off-the-pitch events. Particularly, he acknowledged, following the absence of any new arrivals during the transfer window last month.
“The crux of it is we wanted to bring a couple in,” the Sheffield United manager said. “The crux of it is that there was money put on the table. People will say that we set our sights too high. But, do you know what? I don’t think that’s a bad thing because we want to improve the group.”
United, who host Wigan Athletic in a crucial League One fixture tomorrow, have faced fierce criticism since Monday’s deadline for permanent signings elapsed without incident at Bramall Lane. The Star understands that officials acting on behalf of Adkins and his staff held talks with at least three potential acquisitions, including Fulham defender Dan Burn, before admitting defeat, for the time being at least, in their search for reinforcements.
United are also thought to have submitted a bid for another centre-half, which they were prepared to complete regardless of Burn’s position, but refused to bow to what sources later described as an exorbitant asking price. Particularly as he is believed to be contracted to a League Two club. Midfield and the flanks are also known to be areas where Adkins is keen to strengthen.
Although the 50-year-old had publicly stated his desire to unveil “a couple” of new players ahead of the meeting with Gary Caldwell’s side, he cut a phlegmatic figure when he addressed journalists at the Steelphalt Academy. Crucially, amid talk of tensions between the coaching department and the board, he also refuted suggestions that the necessary financial backing to make a breakthrough had not been forthcoming.
“People will always look to apportion blame,” Adkins said. “From my point of view, I can see that the ownership has a strong desire to get back to the Premier League. It has a strong desire to do well now too. Over the tenure of the ownership, it might not be for me to say, but I can see there’s been good money spent.
“On the pitch and off it as well. This is a big football club. We are in a position now we don’t want to be in. But when we do get out of it, which we will, we have to make sure it’s not a position we are ever in again.”
“There was a genuine desire to bring a couple in,” he continued. “A very important aspect was that we didn’t bring just anybody in. It would have been easy to spend this amount on player ‘x’ or this amount on player ‘b’ but we didn’t want to do that.
“The targets we have have been targets for a long time. We have done our due diligence on them.
“We identified young, hungry and ambitious players. Maybe one or two of the targets that we endeavoured to get, we realised at about 6pm that perhaps it wasn’t going to happen. But we stayed at the training ground, still trying, until 11pm. You also have to make a call that we’re not going to panic, as I’m sure people have done over the years, and bring someone in just for show or for the numbers.”
United will press ahead with their efforts to tweak the options at Adkins disposal when the emergency loan window opens next week. First, however, they must negotiate safe passage through a fixture set to exert huge influence over this season’s promotion race. The fact it comes less than four weeks after the two teams’ momentous tussle at the DW Stadium - United trailed 3-0 with 22 minutes remaining before claiming a deserved draw - provides yet another intriguing sub-plot to this game between the division’s fourth and ninth ranked clubs.
“I did highlight I wanted to bring a couple in,” Adkins said. “There’s frustration across everyone, the owners, myself and the supporters, that it didn’t happen. But that wasn’t through lack of endeavour. Part of the strategy was the reduce the size of the squad, restructure that, which we’ve done. We’ve got a consistent team selection which is important too. We’ve lost a couple of league games in two months so we can see there’s a spirit there and it was certainly evident at Wigan.”
United enter the 29th battle of a 46 match campaign three places and two points behind the play-off positions but aware how quickly this competition can turn. Now 14 points behind Walsall, who occupy the second automatic promotion berth, there was a moment during their game against Swindon Town only 13 days ago when, in real-time, they were sixth with only eight separating them from the top two. The anticipated return of Chris Basham and Matt Done, who scored twice against Wigan last month, from injury could prove significant.
“I’ve got to lead from the front,” Adkins said. “The buck will always stop with me and I’m happy with that. But there’s a grit and a desire to keep going among this group which still has the possibility of achieving its goal. It’s in everybody’s interests to be part of a promotion winning team. We spoke about that to the players after the window closed. They’ll keep going and keep having a right good go for each other, for this club and for the supporters.”