Three months ago, when Sheffield United’s promotion celebrations finally died down and the Peroni had lost its fizz, Chris Wilder envisaged the type of team he required to make them competitive in the Championship.
Young, hungry players with a point to prove and the potential to become better featured at the top of his wish list. Surrounded, the manager explained, by a core of experienced professionals who knew the division inside out and would lead by example. Thirteen weeks and 10 new signings later, United’s squad is still not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But, a couple of false steps apart, Bramall Lane’s coaching staff and transfer negotiation team should be satisfied with their work during a window which ended with the club sitting fifth in the table.
United’s most recent acquisitions fit into three distinct categories. John Lundstram, Ben Heneghan, Nathan Thomas and George Baldock are all aged 24 or under and, despite being regular starters at their previous clubs, are viewed as safe long-term bets by Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell. Enda Stevens and Ched Evans, when the latter regains full fitness, are all about the ‘here and now.’ Likewise Richard Stearman and Clayton Donaldson, whose knowledge of the competition will prove invaluable between now and May. Loanees Jamal Blackman and Cameron Carter-Vickers come with big reputations and glowing references from Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino. The relationships United built with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur while piecing together those agreements could see more young talents making the journey north in the not-so-distant future.
West Ham’s Domingos Quina, together with Devante Cole of Fleetwood Town, were seemingly destined to join them in South Yorkshire until those deals fell through. Whether or not they will be revisited in January remains to be seen although a vacancy still exists for someone capable of changing games with a moment of magic.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the club’s work over the summer, however, has been their ability to retain the likes of John Fleck, Jack O’Connell and, most importantly, David Brooks. Contrary to reports, Everton did not submit a bid for the England youth international following his stellar performances at the recent Toulon Tournament. But a number of top-flight sides, including Spurs, are known to have monitored Brooks’ progress of late and would surely have tested the water with potentially disruptive bids had United not publicly declared he would be remaining in South Yorkshire.
With a move to Scunthorpe failing to materialise, arguably the club’s biggest loser of the window is James Hanson. Having performed a key role during United’s march to the League One title last season, Donaldson’s arrival from Birmingham City means he is no longer the only striker at Wilder’s disposal with a real physical presence. Whether or not Hanson can force his way back into the reckoning will become clearer when his troublesome hamstring heals.