It seems absurd that, as the curtain prepares to come down on a season which has seen Sheffield United exceed all expectations on the pitch, the focus at Bramall Lane is now on off-the-field issues.
But that is the situation the Championship club now finds itself in following Chris Wilder’s decision to publicly bemoan the lack of “harmony”, “clarity” and “direction” caused by a dispute between co-owners HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Kevin McCabe.
As Wilder, who is again expected to address the issue when he faces the media today, the battle for control needs to be resolved quickly, sensibly and amicably. Even though the latter, if reports emanating from the boardroom are believed, appears a forlorn hope as lawyers acting on behalf of both parties pore over the agreement which paved the way for Prince Abdullah’s arrival in September 2013.
Wilder, like everyone else, is aware a huge opportunity awaits United this summer. A chance to build on the progress of the past 24 months which has delivered a League One title and, until last weekend’s defeat by Preston North End, promised to turn Sunday’s game at Bristol City into a play-off shoot-out.
New signings are both inevitable and necessary. Even if United are content to simply tread water and stand still. So a strategy, detailing finance and projected revenue streams, must be presented to Wilder and his staff. Because to quote Benjamin Franklin: “If you prepare to plan, plan to fail.”
With neither Prince Abdullah nor McCabe likely to inject huge sums into United’s coffers until their dispute is decided one way or the other, United’s manager has probably resigned himself to another frugal transfer window. Having created a team capable of challenging for promotion on a bottom six budget, this would be disappointing. But not the end of the world.
What is really eating away at Wilder, what prompted his outburst following the meeting with Alex Neil’s side, is not knowing for certain. United, who had spent six seasons languishing in the third tier until his arrival two years ago, should be worried by this. Other chairman, impressed by his exploits since arriving in South Yorkshire, will be able to articulate a clear vision if they try and tempt him to jump ship.
Although Wilder would undoubtedly like more to spend on recruitment, spells in charge of Halifax Town and Northampton gave him a crash course in footballing realpolitik. After listening to his impassioned and sometimes emotional speech following North End’s visit, money is not actually the biggest issue.
Wilder simply wants information. About where United want to go. How and when they plan to get there. Because only then he can make a decision about the future and begin getting down to work.