Alan Biggs: Heed Phipps and hold firm, Blades

Nigel Adkins and James Phipps
Nigel Adkins and James Phipps
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Stability; the need for or lack of. It’s a recurring theme whenever Sheffield United, and the club’s stuttering attempts to escape League One, are discussed.

And the only sure fire way of getting truly stuck in a repeating groove is to throw all the pieces back up in the air. Yet again.

That is the view expressed strongly to me by co-chairman Jim Phipps and his words deserve to resonate. Because they actually mean more in a time of struggle to make the expected promotion bid than if Nigel Adkins’ team were striding out on the anticipated course.

It should be remembered, of course, that Phipps, on behalf of Saudi backer Prince Abdullah, has already been party to two major changes of direction in the 26 months since the shared team ownership deal in the wake of the damaging dismissal of Danny Wilson.

Together with long-time club owner Kevin McCabe, they backed and then sacked David Weir before also terminating the reign of a manager, in Nigel Clough, who had improved the club’s fortunes quite considerably during his 19 months.

So Phipps speaks with a little more learning from experience than when he started and perhaps, too, from the benefit of some early misadventure.

And when he is adamant that, despite the disappointment of Adkins’ start in the job, the board and United supporters must hold firm, then the point is worth heeding. Is it any wonder United have a team lacking any kind of trademark identity in style and desperately need to create one?

Most interestingly, Phipps seems to suggest that a certain resilience to sudden change and the courage of continuity in the face of fan pressure is fundamental to his investor.

The Prince has sunk around £13m into United so far - based upon which, says his aide, he “expected to be in the Championship at least.”

So will he waver? “I haven’t seen any quit in him,” says Phipps. “I’ve spent time with him at length recently and I think he’s as committed as he’s ever been.

“Almost the only way to make money in English football is to be in the Premier League; the best route to get a recovery on the investment.”

Tellingly, Phipps warns of a fritter factor, adding: “Impatience could be the most certain path to losing all of the investment.

“You have to hold tight and have faith. Making constant changes is not how high performance organisations work.”

Adkins has a three-year contract. Can we, I ask, assume that he will be manager next season even if United are still in League One? “That is the only logical conclusion,” Phipps answers. “We’ve got to build stability.

“The position at the moment is not good enough and we have some work to do to improve.

“But in Nigel we have the best manager we could possibly imagine, the single most qualified to do this job.”

And with a repeated pledge of the estimated £1.5m from Jamie Murphy’s summer sale being available in full, there are reassurances that United will be active in the January window. Says Phipps: “The Prince is not a good loser, he’s a passionate real football fan.

“He’s put in £13m and the club has the financial resources it needs.”

What I detect to be the unspoken bit is that club and supporters need to have the conviction to stick to their chosen course.