Chris Wilder was probably surprised to learn he doesn’t sign overseas players.
Come to think of it, Caolan Lavery must have been pretty shocked when he read a recent report on Sheffield United recruitment policy too. Born in Red Deer, Alberta, the centre-forward might represent Northern Ireland at international level but he sounds like a Canadian and, despite his allegience to the green and white army, still calls Canada home. Equally, if Samir Carruthers is capped by Italy or Morocco, I won’t be addressing him as signore or السيد anytime soon. Lavery’s team mate qualifies for both courtesy of a very cosmopolitan family tree. But, having been brought up in Islington and then Hatfield, Hertfordshire, one suspects he identifies as English.
Nationality and belonging are becoming increasingly complex subjects. They certainly, in this era of mass migration and globalisation, can not be explained by a flag on a footballer’s wikipedia page. Thankfully, Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arrival at Bramall Lane last week rendered all talk of isolationism irrelevant. Or did it? Because, the USA defender hails from Southend.
To be frank, I couldn’t care two hoots where United’s players are sourced from. So long as they are skillful, decent blokes and thoroughly committed to the cause. But I do find it strange that, only months after we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions’ historic victory over Internazionale, focusing on domestic talent is seen as a weakness by some. On the contrary, until United are established at Championship level and boost their revenue streams, it makes complete and utter sense.
Building scouting networks, and I’m talking about proper, scientific systems rather than haphazard collections of knowledgeable but poorly recompensed match observers, costs money. In fact, it costs a lot. Some clubs can gain entry to foreign markets on the cheap, as Cardiff City’s Neil Warnock, thanks to his relationship with Laurent D’Jaffo, explained following United’s visit to Wales a few weeks ago. But they are the exceptions rather than the rules.
“I’m fortunate,” Warnock, who managed D’Jaffo at Bramall Lane, admitted. “Because in certain markets abroad, Laurent knows pretty much everyone. I can call him up, or he’ll call me, and he’ll tell me if they are right or not. It’s really good to have that, that level of trust.”
United, unlike many of their rivals, do not have millions to spend in the transfer market. Wilder’s margin for error, as he acknowledged before last night’s deadline, is very, very slim as a direct consequence. Fortunately, the 49-year-old has made precious few mistakes when it comes to recruitment which, I suspect, is because potential targets are exhaustively monitored by chief scout Paul Mitchell before their names even land on his desk.
Yes, United might risk missing out on a few bargains. Yes, they have had some exceptional overseas players in the past. But, for the time being at least, they are better off looking closer to home when it comes to new players. Until they can set aside enough money to gather their own detailed intelligence.