This column was chided on Twitter recently by someone claiming its only Sheffield United topic was Ched Evans. Palpably not true. But Evans and the divisive issue surrounding him is too hot for United’s comfort, so I make no apologies for raising it again. Because the club itself is fully aware that the uncertainty over the jailed striker’s future - and the strong emotions generated either way – could prove damaging if allowed to linger much longer.
“A decision one way or the other is needed,” co-chairman Jim Phipps told me, admitting that “sooner rather than later” is the priority. Phipps also accepts the club has to fully explain that decision, once painstakingly reached. And, although he will give no clue on the process, you wonder if there are conflicting views within a hierarchy based around Prince Abdullah’s team ownership partnership with Kevin McCabe.
If so, it will be a test of a strong alliance that has presented a unified front on the basis that disagreements are inevitable and can make marriages stronger if worked through. A moral judgement either way has to rise above financial considerations on a player’s potential value.
But surely this is a decision, primarily, for the manager given that United are emphasising his control over team affairs. The club can ill afford to conflict with his views on this, of all, matters.
What is certain is that the Blades DO need a quality striker, but then the requirement has been there for some time, fuelling a feeling in some quarters that they have been waiting for Evans. But is he the ONLY one out there?
How fit can he be, how could he be expected to pick up where he left off and how much baggage would United carry in terms of a divided support and the extra motivation for opposition teams and fans who already see them as the team to beat?
Phipps says that “flashy money” ought not to be needed in League One but that it is available and stored for a higher level. But might that view, for one key signing at least, be about to change?
United are scoring goals but struggling to get them in the formative stage of matches. But that’s not the reason you feel the Evans call should be dictated primarily by Clough. It’s his dressing room and he is more particular than most bosses on the characteristic make up of it.
In Saudi Arabia there is a wealthy backer watching events assiduously. There has seemed to be an air of detachment since the Prince took up his all-embracing duties as the country’s minister for sport. Not so, says Phipps, who reveals that during their phone conferences he sometimes takes an earful of frustration from his employer. A time for urgency and action all round methinks.