Guest Blades Column: Sheffield United's co-owners must work together for a speedy resolution to power talks - or risk undoing all of Chris Wilder's superb work
Almost a month has passed since The Blades released a statement confirming: 'His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah...and Kevin McCabe are in discussions regarding the transfer of ownership and control of Sheffield United Football Club to the Prince.'
Given the, subsequent, deafening silence we should consider the possibility that any such discussions are not going particularly smoothly - if indeed they are taking place at all.If an impasse exists between the co-owners it is a problem that needs to be sorted and quickly.
While manager Chris Wilder rightly brushed aside any connection between his team’s abject display at Hull and uncertainty surrounding ownership, he also made clear: “I don’t know the direction the club is going. It would be good to know from my point of view, yes of course.”
What seems beyond doubt is that the relationship between McCabe and the Prince is currently strained. Having been very much the ‘silent partner’ following Jim Phipps’ departure, Prince Abdullah has recently moved to exert greater influence over events at Bramall Lane with the appointment of new boardroom representatives.
This involved a rebalancing of both the holding company and football club board to include three directors representing the McCabe side (Bettis, Green and Tutton) and three from the Prince’s side (Prince Abdullah himself, Tareq Hawasli and Yusuf Giansiracusa). Nothing overly controversial here and understandable that the Prince would want his voice fully heard at board level.
More intriguing is the involvement of Jan Van Winckel who was added to the main and subsidiary board by Prince Abdullah having been blocked by McCabe from joining the club’s technical board.
The technical board, focused purely on football matters, is a tight knit group comprising of Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill, head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, academy chief Travis Binnion and head of admin Carl Shieber. It would be surprising if Wilder was welcoming of a third party being imposed on this group given the priority he places on trust and togetherness.
Even more perplexing, given its timing, was Prince’s recent acquisition of Beerschot FC in Belgium - presumably to be run by Van Winckel? Given Prince Abdullah’s already infrequent appearances at S2, it’s difficult to see how the addition of another football club to his portfolio is going to sharpen his focus on the Blades.
When Prince Abdullah bought 50 per cent of Blades Leisure Ltd in 2013, the deal allowed for him to complete a full takeover at some future point - including the stadium, academy and Crookes properties. This is a seemingly logical component of a full buyout but one that nevertheless adds a few zeros to the purchase cost.
If this is a stumbling block to the completion of a takeover by the Prince it should ring alarm bells for Blades fans, as it will place into question both the Prince’s ability to fund a full takeover and his longer-term commitment to the club.
The Blades’ epic revival since Wilder arrived less than two years ago has been built on foundations of togetherness and unity between all the club’s main stakeholders - players, staff, owners and supporters.
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Wilder has galvanised his players and, in doing so, rekindled the enthusiasm of Blades fans who have backed their team in impressive numbers, both home and away. Finally, after years of ‘Pub League’ stupor, Wilder has given us reason to wake up and believe again.
Anyone who has followed Sheffield United through decades knows that sensations of success are fragile and fleeting. We take little for granted and cherish the good days through the eyes of a mayfly, knowing all too well that they won’t last. But this time it seemed different.
Very few clubs have had the good fortune to have a supporter-benefactor with the wherewithal to commit north of Â£100m to their cause. Even fewer have an outstanding supporter-manager with a 56 per cent win rate and a 100-point championship on their embryonic Blades CV.
Similarly rare is having a supporter-striker-cum-club captain scoring at better than a goal every two games over his last 100+ games.
The likelihood of having all three of these phenomena occurring at the same time defies probability. It has never happened before and will almost certainly never happen again. That’s why the unity created across the club, through this stellar alignment, and the opportunities it has helped create need to be protected and maximised.
None of McCabe, Wilder or Sharp will be around forever but the spirit they have created together by committing to their cause and really caring needs to be remembered.
If Prince Abdullah understands this and really gets what it means to be a Blade – we’re more ‘Pauper’ than ‘Prince’ – all well and good. If not, as with most of his predecessors, it will probably end in tears. The club’s original press release confirming the commencement of discussions stated: “The Prince and Kevin McCabe want to reassure everyone connected to the club that the current negotiations and transfer of ownership will have no impact on the club’s management and its staff.”
Had there been a speedy resolution to discussions that may have been the case. Now weeks have passed, Wilder is being asked about it, supporters are distracted by it. It is having an impact and it’s not a positive one.
Not so long ago McCabe and Prince Abdullah developed a strong enough rapport to commit to investing millions and working closely together towards the aim of returning United to the Premier League.
With that objective tantalisingly closer than at any time since they joined forces, surely now is the time to talk face to face, man to man, co-owner to co-owner and find a sensible solution? One that meets their reasonable financial expectations but most of all, ensures the Blades’ recent, upward trajectory is not impeded.