James Shield's Sheffield United Column: This must happen when Bramall Lane's ownership dispute is resolved
Sheffield United's ownership dispute is a bit like visiting Magaluf. There's never a good time to do it but sometimes, be it a stag do, hen party or whatever, you don't really have a choice.
Although their partnership initially served a purpose, not least because of the effect League One football was having on Bramall Lane’s balance sheet, Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud were probably always going to quarrel at some point. And when the inevitable happened, because they both own half of the football club, the situation was bound to become entrenched.
Fortunately, if that word is even appropriate given manager Chris Wilder’s exasperation with this potentially damaging situation, both parties have a vested interest in limiting the fall-out. Because, quite simply, they both want sole control. And they only need to look at Sunderland, who quite fancy poaching Wilder if his patience runs out, for a reminder about what can happen when a club has no direction, modus operandi or clear sense of how to progress. United are in a much stronger position than their rivals from Wearside who, after another shambolic season, have just suffered back to back relegations. Even with new owners looming large on the horizon, it remains to be seen exactly how the proposed takeover has been structured and whether or not Ellis Short’s decision to write-off an estimated £140m worth of debt is an amazing act generosity or laden with caveats. Either way, whoever does eventually accept the challenge of bringing the good times back to that corner of the North-East will find it no simple task. As Wilder admitted himself after being appointed two years ago, 12 months before he succeeded where five others had failed by leading United out of the third tier, turning around “a supertanker” is fraught with difficulty and danger. Even one, quite bizarrely, set to benefit from another Premier League parachute payment.
Success can breed success. But, United should be warned, the rot can also quickly set in.
Perhaps the biggest shame about their present predicament, other than the fact is clearly souring the usually upbeat Wilder’s mood, is that it has occurred at time when his team is on an upward curve. With a promotion and a Championship play-off challenge already in the bag, United should be looking to the future with confidence and planning how best to build on the good work achieved over the past 24 months. There has, it must not be forgotten, been plenty of that. Neither McCabe nor Prince Abdullah, who to be fair are probably not enjoying the current situation either, want to take power when the club is on a downward curve. I suspect that, coupled with Wilder’s decision to publicly bemoan the politicking, has been the catalyst for their meeting which is expected to take place shortly. Going down the legal route will be a gruelling and expensive journey. Both in a financial and emotional sense.
It is vital that when the problem is solved - which, one way or the other, it definitely will be - whoever wins can articulate a vision about how United can continue to develop with Wilder at the helm. That, even though some might not care to admit it, is more important than a huge transfer pot.