James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: A pattern emerges in the transfer market

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So far so good for Sheffield United in the transfer market.

Two players signed who, on the evidence of last term, should both improve what is already a pretty impressive looking squad.

Marc McNulty, a precocious young centre-forward from Scotland, has averaged a goal every 2.4 games for Livingston since August 2011 while Jamal Campbell-Ryce possesses a potentially irresistible combination of experience, creativity and nous.

Their arrival at Bramall Lane earlier this week is a sign that Nigel Clough, who steered United from 21st to seventh in the League One table after taking charge in October, wants to complete the majority of his business quickly. A wise move given the importance he places on pre-season when, by all accounts, United are set to experiment with a couple of different tactical systems as well as undergo a gruelling fitness programme.

But the presence of McNulty, aged 21, and Campbell-Ryce, 10 years the young Scot’s senior, reveals even more about the type of team Clough believes is required to deliver promotion.

Up-and-coming talent underpinned by a layer of tried-and-tested older heads. All, listening to McNulty and Campbell-Ryce speak during Monday’s media conference at Bramall Lane, bound together by a common thread. Points, albeit markedly different ones, to prove.

“The manager here has shown faith in me,” McNulty told this newspaper soon after his arrival was officially confirmed. “Now, what I’ve got to do, is show why.”

Campbell-Ryce, like his new colleague, spoke with a surety and eloquence which, if translated onto the pitch, bodes well for the future. The former Jamaica winger described United as “the biggest club” he has represented during a career spanning 12 campaigns and as many clubs including Barnsley, Rotherham, Chesterfield and most recently Notts County.

Which, inadvertently, highlighted another quality Clough and his staff want new recruits to demonstrate. The notion that joining United represents a step up footballing pyramid rather than down.

Good because, all too often even in the not so distant past, they have collected individuals who did not greet moves to South Yorkshire with quite the same enthusiasm.

“What’s key...is that Marc and Jamal are really excited to be here,” Clough explained after securing McNulty and Campbell-Ryce. “That’s what we want to see.

“We might be looking at one or two from the Championship as well but hopefully they won’t view this as a step down. Rather one step back to take a couple forward.”

Clough’s decision to reiterate that United do not want to enter the forthcoming campaign with a bloated squad should also be welcomed. Because it means talent will not get lost or overlooked. And, crucially, properly deployed.

Cast your minds back to when the likes of Leon Britton and David Cotterill were on United’s books before departing, far too soon, having failed to cement places in the starting eleven. Britton is now plying his trade in the Premier League while Cotterill, despite Doncaster Rovers’ recent relegation from the Championship, has spent the past nine months in the second tier. Even more of a waste was the bizarre case of Nathan Dyer who, having been secured on loan from Southampton in 2008, tasted only 284 minutes of action during a 14 week stint. (The maximum available was 630).

Understandably, Dyer found his predicament difficult to fathom, Even more so when, three years later, he was, together with Britton, a member of the Swansea side which gained promotion to the FAPL, established itself there before lifting the Capital One Cup.

Of course, United’s summer is unlikely to run completely smoothly. Football never does work that way.

Their League One status, coupled with the fact Clough has plenty of capable professionals at his disposal, makes them vulnerable to hostile bids from elsewhere.

But, at this early stage of the summer, there is good reason to believe that United, with a fair wind and some decent luck, could solve that particular problem soon. Not least because the work of Clough and his coaches so far, suggests they are targeting individuals capable of filling the gaps in United’s jigsaw than being swayed by glamorous names.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1