James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Does size really matter?
Sheffield United, as Jay McEveley was reminded soon after joining, might not be massive.
But they are big. And quite literally too.
Nigel Adkins, a manager who quotes set-piece statistics more often than Madonna swaps outfits, has taken conscious steps to increase the physicality of his squad since being appointed seven months ago. In this instance, whatever Dear Deidre might say, size really does matter. A lot.
Scroll back to last season’s meeting between United and Swindon Town, who visit Bramall Lane tomorrow, in the League One play-off semi-finals. The average height of the eleven which started the second-leg at the County Ground was just 5ft 9in with only four six footers in the team. Adkins’ first match at the helm, against Gillingham in August, saw United return figures of 5ft 10in and five. His 34th, last weekend’s victory over Colchester in Essex, those had grown to 6ft 1in and a vertigo-inducing nine. Quite a difference I’m sure you will agree. Clearly, given that Billy Sharp is the only player recruited by the club during the 50-year-old’s tenure who measures less than 72 inches, all part of a very deliberate ploy.
League One, despite being home to some gifted talents, remains a brutal, uncompromising competition. As United, who scored precious few goals from dead ball situations during the previous campaign but conceded plenty, were reminded on countless occasions by analysts and supporters alike.
Of course, feet and inches do not win football matches. Yes, they cover a multitude of sins but ability also counts. In an ideal world, Adkins and the majority of his counterparts would probably love to stock their squads with players possessing the destructive force of Earnie Shavers and Gianfranco Zola’s touch. But those cost a pretty penny and are few and far between. In any case, as Sharp demonstrated moments before scoring at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, small frames can also generate great power.
Ultimately, though, football has a duty to ensure it still creates footballers. Not talk about simply finding athletes as, unfortunately, many coaches do. Because, crunching tackles excepted, it is footballers who get bums off seats. In short, and in a Bramall Lane context, always make room for the likes of Jose Baxter, Che Adams and Jamal Campbell-Ryce.