Seven new players have joined Sheffield United during the close season, but Chris Wilder suspects that Paul Mitchell, Bramall Lane’s new head of recruitment, could prove to be the club’s best signing yet.
Mitchell, who was unveiled as Lee Turnbull’s replacement last month, is the man tasked with making United’s transfer strategy tick by identifying targets with the attitude, ability and, crucially, consistency to command regular places in Wilder’s matchday squad.
It is a job he performed to good effect at Chesterfield where, as United discovered to their cost on numerous occasions, the former Alfreton, Gainsborough Trinity and Worksop Town manager developed a reputation for spotting youngsters capable of performing in higher divisions but who, for a variety of reasons, had slipped under the radar of bigger and wealthier teams.
“Mitch is someone we’ve tracked for a long time and admired for a long time,” Wilder said. “He’s excellent at what he does. The great thing about Mitch is that he’s usually ahead of the game.
“I don’t mind saying that, when we’ve gone through the old records, there are players who went to Chesterfield because he’d flagged them up who, really, you’d have thought should be coming here first. It’s just one of the reasons why we’re delighted that he’s come on board.”
United have overhauled their recruitment policy since appointing Wilder as manager in May, with the 48-year-old, who led Northampton Town to the League Two title last term, focusing on players with proven track records in League One and League Two.
The approach has obvious benefits financially but more importantly, chief executive Stephen Bettis explained, ensures new arrivals are fit for purpose too.
“The recruitment, in the last couple of years, has been more from higher leagues downwards,” Bettis said.”I don’t think we were getting value for money or the players who could get us out of this league. The appointment of Chris highlights that.
“When we interviewed Chris, and he spoke about the people he was looking at, it highlighted that both him and the board were on the same page. He was recruited because of how he’s worked historically. We didn’t impose anything on him. He’s Sheffield United through and through. He doesn’t want to see us wasting money and he wants to see us bringing the right people in to get us out of the league.”
With the Blades having changed their approach towards recruitment, they are now attempting, Bettis acknowledged, to change their perception as imprudent spenders too.
“We’ve tried to make people aware there’s been a change,, that we are willing to pay the right price for a player but not more, and why should we?” he said
“Sometimes, we should even be able to get a player for less because of the positives about coming here, such as the chances of promotion, the facilities and the fans.”
“We’re not affecting the ability of the club to sign players because we are still willing to play the same price as everybody else,” Bettis added. “But not more.
“We have a figure that we agree with Chris that’s the top line. If it goes beyond that, then there’s a chance you could get better value for money elsewhere.”
With the likes of Leon Clarke, John Fleck and Chris Hussey moving to South Yorkshire earlier this summer, United have finally begun to win praise for their dealings in the transfer market following several difficult years.
The much-maligned but often-misunderstood technical board will play its part moving forward.
“It’s based on representation from the board, the manager, Travis (Binnion) from the academy side, who keeps us aware of who is coming through, and, of course, Mitch,” said Bettis.
“ He doesn’t sit on the committee per se but he’s brought in and out as required.
“We agree budgets and (contract negotiator) Carl Shieber, too.
“Our job is to ensure those are adhered too.
“The players being looked at are based on ability, age, injury record. And of course there’s a cost aspect which needs to be managed.
“Going forward, I see the technical committee getting better and better.
“When we get out of this window, it will be a case of looking at what we might need to do in January. Mitch will have clear guidelines about what’s needed and so that should help him.”
One criticism of the technican board is that it lacks football experience.
But Bettis, whose position was confirmed soon after Wilder’s, said: “There’s the manager and there’s Travis for a start. Chris decides who he wants, no-one else.
“The technical board can highlight two or three players for each position who tick the boxes and the criteria. And Chris is part of that process anyway.
“It’s not true that there’s no football knowledge on it. My role isn’t about whether a player is good enough, for example. It’s about whether he fits the financial criteria.”
So what exactly does a chief executive do?
“The club, and this might be the wrong word to use, is a business,” Bettis said. “If it’s not being efficient, then it’s wasting money.
“It’s about making sure all of the different departments talk to each other. Because they are inter-linked. I also liaise with the board.
“I have no involvement with picking the team and I honestly believe any chief exec that does is wrong. That’s not my area of expertise. I’m a qualified accountant and have run successful businesses.”
Mitchell’s fingerprints, Wilder recently acknowledged, are present on some of the deals completed before his United contract was signed last month.
“We’re not bothered about whether someone is a fashionable name,” Wilder said. “Just whether they are right for this football club and the challenges ahead.
“The right players and characters we want around.”