Several months ago, when Sheffield United mandarins first confirmed its place in the club’s social diary, they probably hoped it would be a celebratory experience.
Instead, just over a week after defeat at Coventry City dashed all hope of achieving Championship status next term, Sunday’s Player of the Year dinner threatens to be a sobering affair. An occasion when, as they the temperature rises inside the Platinum Suite, Nigel Adkins’ squad will transude the stench of failure. Cringe through an uncomfortable evening spent in the company of folk who, behind the painted smiles and good manners, probably wish they would choke on their roast beef and veg.
As unpalatable as that might sound, it is likely to prove much less painful than another engagement they are scheduled to fulfil earlier that afternoon. The lap of honour (ahem) which traditionally follows the final home match of the season. A custom many commentators believe, given their disappointing results, United must temporarily scrap. But which, if it truly is designed to thank supporters for their efforts rather than massage the egos of well-paid professional sportsmen, should definitely take place. It could prove wonderfully cathartic. And, given that the response it provokes is unlikely to be friendly, help separate the men from the boys. Reveal who has the strength of character required to help transform United’s fortunes when 2016/17 bid for promotion gets underway. Because that is what, assuming he is tasked with overseeing the project of course, Adkins must unearth either in the transfer market or the Steelphalt Academy this summer. Character. Big personalities. Two things which, over the course of a 46 match campaign, can prove even more decisive than top class talent.
I’m not talking about self-appointed men of the people either. Footballers who bang on about being the biggest Blade ever, thump the badge on their chest in front of the cameras or produce contrived displays of contrition after painful set-backs. Some people, including many in my profession, fall for it. Plenty more, fortunately, do not. United have endured far too many of these chameleons and their ulterior motives since being relegated from the top-flight in 2007. Quite often while paying them top dollar too. No, I mean lads who just go out there and try, because that is all you can ask, to get the job done. Adkins already has quite a few at his disposal. But would undoubtedly benefit from more.
With a little patience, joined-up thinking and a preference (although not exclusively) for drafting-in players whose careers are on an upward curve, it should prove relatively simple to transform United’s fortunes. Providing everyone associated with the club commits to this strategy and then sticks to it. No matter, barring a complete implosion of course, what.