Although it has been interpreted as a plea for greater funding, despite the fact he does want more to spend in the transfer market, Chris Wilder’s decision to speak publicly about Sheffield United’s boardroom issues was motivated more by a desire for some clarity than pounds, shillings and pence.
Indeed, with Kevin McCabe acknowledging they need resolving at the club’s official player of the year ceremony on Sunday night, the manager’s outburst could actually be regarded as a dose of shock therapy. A deliberate and carefully thought-out manoeuvre, camouflaged behind a cloak of emotion, designed to bring matters to a head.
With clubs already making plans for the transfer window, which reopens on June 9, the battle for control between McCabe and his fellow co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will clearly be causing problems for Wilder and his staff. As the manager admitted following last weekend’s defeat by Preston North End, it is impossible to devise any sort of strategy if his recruitment budget remains undecided.
I just want the team to progress, to do well, and move forward,” he said. “I think we’ve got something special going on here. We’ve got an honest group. We’re all employees of the football club. They need to know as well as I do.”
McCabe and Prince Abdullah, who was effectively gifted 50 per cent of United’s parent company in return for certain financial guarantees, both reassured Wilder his position would “not be affected whatever the final outcome” when a statement, confirming they were in negotiations, was published three months ago. The communiqué detailed how Prince Abdullah had launched his takeover attempt “in response” to “a process” triggered by McCabe. It is now clear that, despite not being referenced explicitly, was a bid by the Yorkshire based property magnate to regain the shares he sold in 2013 and end their partnership.
Inevitably, given the importance of United’s next recruitment drive, most of the debate will focus on the practical difficulties their rift has caused. But, as Wilder indicated on Saturday evening, there are philosophical matters to consider too. A lifelong United supporter and former player, he insisted during an emotional post-match press conference that “I’m not picking a fight” with either side.
However, given his connections with Bramall Lane, it is inconceivable the 50-year-old has no preference about who eventually wins this legal tug of war.
“I’ve had this for longer than the last hour and a half,” he said. “I’m not coming out with this because we’ve lost. We’re competing with some huge football clubs. I don’t want to hurt the football club. We charge sensible prices. I don’t want to see those shoot up.”
The Star understands Wilder has already presented a provisional list of targets to United’s hierarchy and, as his squad prepares for its final match of the Championship season at Bristol City on Sunday, is now waiting to learn if these are realistic or beyond his financial reach. The 50-year-old, who delivered the League One title last term, saw his team maintain a play-off challenge until the penultimate match of the campaign.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “But we want to keep driving things forward.”