Whether it be Chris Wilder’s ability to read character, Alan Knill’s work during training or head of recruitment Paul Mitchell’s eye for untapped potential, Sheffield United have an almost unparalleled track record of success in the transfer market since their appointments 20 months ago.
Admittedly, some players have impressed more than others. But most have contributed, in a variety of different ways, to the club’s success over the past season and a half. And, perhaps most encouragingly for a board of directors who are forced to keep a close eye on the bottom line, there have been none of the expensive mistakes which cast a shadow over Nigel Adkins’ reign.
Although Wilder has undoubtedly been frustrated by the time it has taken to complete some tortuously long-running deals, the sight of four new faces arriving at Bramall Lane during the first fortnight of the window recently prompted one commentator to claim that United have set the benchmark for other clubs to follow when it comes to recruitment strategy.
The veracity of this statement will become clear over the next 13 days. But Wilder is convinced the trend of relatively cheap acquisitions becoming valuable assets is set to continue after unveiling Lee Evans, Ryan Leonard and Ricky Holmes.
“We’re fishing in a different pond to a lot of clubs around us,” he said. “That’s not a moan, it’s just an observation of exactly where we are at this moment in time.
“But we bring the lads in because we think they are good players and that we can help make them even better play. We think they can improve us and, also, that we can improve them.”
Although James Wilson has being signed on loan from Manchester United, he is also expected to benefit from spending time with a team which enters Saturday’s game at Norwich City ranked sixth in the Championship. Indeed, like Evans, Leonard and Holmes, who is expected to compete with fellow thirty-something Mark Duffy for the fantasista role, he has no shortage of role models in a dressing room stuffed full of individuals whose values have soared since moving to South Yorkshire. Evans, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder, should benefit from a period of stability in the same way as Paul Coutts while Leonard, who has spent the last seven years with Southend, need only look at John Fleck for a reminder about how footballers apparently marooned in League One can blossom at a higher level. Clear instructions and tactics have undoubtedly helped.
“Striving to improve is something we demand here,” Wilder, who captured Holmes from Charlton Athletic earlier this week, said. “We’ll reward players when they do that and deserve rewarding. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve also got to have that attitude not to settle for what you’ve got.”