If you were devising the perfect development plan to help a talented young footballer realise their potential, safe to say the one Marc McNulty has followed since joining Sheffield United would not be it.
The 24-year-old is now playing under his third manager in as seasons at Bramall Lane. Dispatched and subsequently recalled from a loan spell with Bradford City, he has played just over an hour of football for Chris Wilder’s side after spending much of his stay at Valley Parade, which was hampered by fitness and selection issues, warming the bench.
On Tuesday, after being handed his first start for the League One leaders since September 2015, McNulty was substituted after only 45 minutes of what turned-out to be a bitterly disappointing defeat. Presumably selected because coaching staff felt United needed something different, being hauled-off when they decided that was not the case at all would have tested the patience of a saint, let alone a Scottish centre-forward. With James Hanson arriving from Bradford City earlier this week, McNulty could be forgiven for fearing his future opportunities will be limited. But I would advise against writing him off just yet.
McNulty’s performance against Fleetwood was, despite attracting criticism from sections of an understandably frustrated crowd, actually pretty decent. He chased down opponents, linked-up well with the midfield when required to drop deep and showed plenty of desire. In short, given that the quality of service both he and Billy Sharp received would have embarrassed Basil Fawlty, enough to warrant another chance.
Theirry Henry failed to score in his first eight matches for Arsenal before hitting the target twice in his next nine and 24 times in 27. The rest, as they say, is history. Doubtless some blowhard will accuse me of comparing McNulty with the former France great. I’m not. Simply making the point that people are written-off far too quickly these days.
This season is proving the most difficult, in terms of strikes per game, of McNulty’s career. He returned figures of nine, four, 2.7, 2.7 and 2.1 at Livingston. During his first campaign with United it was 3.3. Nigel Clough, who despite signing him was bizarrely accused by many of hating McNulty’s guts, picked him on 43 occasions. Or, to put it another way, handed McNulty 77 per cent of his appearances for the club so far. And that exposure was repaid, as the statistics show, with goals. Different managers, though, have different ideas and different demands. When those constantly change, there is always a danger that good players slip through the gaps.
Wilder, who is hopefully destined to occupy the Bramall Lane hot-seat for a long time yet, demands his charges behave themselves on and off the pitch. If McNulty obliges, and there is no reason to suggest he won’t, then where is the harm in granting him the same encouragement as, say, Caolan Lavery, Matt Done and Leon Clarke?
Hopefully McNulty is remembered as the boy who came good again after a period of adversity. Not arguably the greatest victim of United’s managerial merry-go-round. Because, as we have seen in the past, the boy can score. And you can’t put a price on that.