James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Is this the best way of plotting a course through Bramall Lane's off-the-pitch impasse?

Visitors to Thorp Arch, Leeds United's training ground on the outskirts of Wetherby, will have noticed some construction work taking place since Marcelo Bielsa's appointment earlier this year.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 4:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 3:49 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

The Argentine, known to be a stickler for detail and assiduous preparation, asked his employers to build sleeping quarters for his squad after accepting the job. Nothing too fancy. No silk sheets, luxurious soft furnishings or Egyptian cotton sheets. Just somewhere for them to get some rest in between sessions and relax following lunch. Prepared, of course, by a qualified chef and individually tailored to each individuals dietary and nutritional requirements.

Aware of Bielsa's determination to get what he wants - just ask Lazio, where he resigned his position after two eventful days, or Marseille, France's true footballing giant - Elland Road's hierarchy acquiesced and found the space for several prefabricated buildings. The project, for Chris Wilder's counterpart in West Yorkshire, represents another vital stage in his pursuit of excellence.

Chris Wilder is squeezing every last drop of potential out of Sheffield United's squad: David Klein/Sportimage

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With the margin for error towards the top of the Championship uncomfortably slim - Sheffield United are only eight points behind their neighbours, rivals and divisional leaders - folk in S2 would be wise to take note of events 40 miles up the motorway. They are a reminder, particularly as the transfer window approaches and attention inevitably focuses on capturing targets, that time and money must also be spent on improving infrastructure. Otherwise, particularly in an era where managers must eke every last drop of potential out of their squad, you risk falling off the pace.

It is an idea which should resonate particularly strongly through the corridors of power at Bramall Lane where, despite making attempts to redress the balance, Wilder and his staff do not enjoy the same financial backing as many of the division's other leading teams. That is no one's fault. Money should not be spent unless it is already in the bank or can be comfortably repaid. But neither HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud or Kevin McCabe have the means to furnish him with the equivalent of a Premier League parachute payment or Chinese billionaire's slush fund.

Despite some misleading figures published on the internet, United's warring co-owners have both spent money during their tenures, with the latter reported to have provided an estimated £90m since joining the board while his business partner has also provided funding. Extended and doubtless enhanced contracts have also been sanctioned for many of Wilder's most influential performers, together with a potentially record-breaking deal for John Egan. 

Still, with McCabe and Prince Abdullah's relationship deteriorating to such an extent it now seems destined to be dissolved by a court hearing in May, it seems unlikely either will feel inclined to make funding available for recruitment beyond what has already been budgeted for. Unless their outlays can be protected by some legal means.

Kevin McCabe owns 50 per cent of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Although deep pockets are always desirable, it makes sense for United to position themselves as a pioneering rather than extravagant club until there is a change in their circumstances. This still requires investment. But improving facilities and services, making sure they are the very best they can be, would serve a dual purpose.

Not only would it improve those players already at United's disposal and help maximise Wilder's own managerial skills but it should also serve to attract ambitious, high-calibre professionals in the future. Whether that be permanently or on loan.

HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud controls the other half of the club: Gerard Binks.