James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Spend more but with the proviso Ben Whiteman is given a first team chance
The fact he has spent the best part of eight months trying to secure Ryan Leonard's release from Southend speaks volumes about Chris Wilder's transfer budget.
Can you imagine Aston Villa, Bristol City or any of Championship’s other leading teams struggling to sign a League One player whose contract expires shortly? No, I didn’t think so.
While leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers continue to hoover-up established internationals, the Sheffield United manager and his staff find themselves haggling over every single pound, shilling and pence with their counterparts at Roots Hall. Something which makes it even more remarkable that Bramall Lane’s first team squad, which faces Ipswich Town in the FA Cup tomorrow, entered this month’s transfer window ranked sixth and only seven points behind second-placed Derby County.
Inevitably, these protracted negotiations, not to mention the reason behind them, will lead to calls for Bramall Lane’s owners to increase Wilder’s budget. Certainly, given the size of the prize at stake combined with United’s position in the table, it would seem eminently sensible to make extra funding available. Even if, as I suggested in a recent column, this comes from next summer’s recruitment kitty.
What United must do, however, is resist the temptation to try and keep up with the Joneses by opening the financial floodgates. Accept that, unless there is a change in circumstances behind the scenes, they will never been able to compete in monetary terms with others in the division and adopt a more intelligent approach instead. Brighton and Hove Albion lost £39m achieving promotion last season with a wages to turnover ratio of 107 per cent. True, although most of their £207m debt is friendly given that it is owed to owner Tony Bloom, football’s belief that it is impervious to any type of crash makes for crazy economics. Long-term, when the inevitable happens and revenues fall or stagnate, prudent clubs will be the best protected.
Which is why the decision to recall Ben Whiteman from his loan with Doncaster Rovers makes perfect sense. Like it or not, and Wilder is understandably reluctant to admit it, but United have struggled to cope with the loss of Paul Coutts. Despite the creditable draws at both County and Villa, they have won only once since the midfielder suffered a season-ending injury against Burton Albion nine games ago. John Fleck and John Lundstram are both fine players but perhaps are sacrificing too much of themselves in an effort to strike-up an effective partnership.
Whiteman, a graduate of the club’s Steelphalt Academy, could help them solve this problem and enable Wilder to invest in other areas of the team. But it is impossible to know if he is capable until United give him a proper chance. Which Wilder, thankfully, seems willing to do.