Chris Wilder’s decision to focus on quality rather than quantity in this summer’s transfer window is a reflection of both Sheffield United’s improved recruitment budget and his faith in Sheffield United’s first team squad.
The 50-year-old, whose side spent most of last season chasing a top six finish despite the hierarchy’s decision to keep the purse strings drawn tight, discovered last month that co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud were increasing the amount of money placed at his disposal to spend on players.
Although that decision has allowed Wilder to go shopping in previously off-limits areas of the market, his refusal to embark upon another comprehensive makeover reveals a belief the likes of John Fleck, Jack O’Connell and Paul Coutts, who is set to return from serious injury at the beginning of next term, can reprise last season’s compelling performances. Or, as United’s coaching staff suspect, better them following 10 months’ worth of Championship experience.
“We don’t just want people,” Wilder said. “We want the right people. It’s not about tearing everything up and starting again. It’s also about helping the already excellent professionals we’ve got get even better.”
United’s strategy reveals an old fashioned but eminently sensible belief in the power of coaching and hard work on the training ground. While many of his counterparts prefer to sign ready made replacements, Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill and head of sports science Matt Prestridge spend the majority of their time focusing on those already at Bramall Lane.
Although vacancies for two new centre-forwards and a centre-half have been identified, Wilder insisted this does not confirm a lack of faith in the likes of Leon Clarke, Billy Sharp or Jack O’Connell. On the contrary, the former Northampton Town and Halifax chief believes introducing some fresh blood can help them reach even greater levels.
“I thought the lads did great last season,” Wilder said. “They did great when they got promoted the season before but arguably what they’ve just done is even better because of the difference in levels.
“Looking back at what they did, you can see that one or two players of the right quality would have made a big difference. They (the team) would have probably got what they deserved out of certain games with just that little bit extra.”
“Small changes here and there would have made a big difference in my opinion,” Wilder continued. “That’s not a criticism at all. It’s just how I see it and why we’re just looking to tweak a few things here and there rather than rip it up.”