‘Philosophical’ best described Chris Wilder’s mood as he discussed David Brooks’ impending move to AFC Bournemouth.
Yes, he admitted, it is disappointing to see a player of such huge potential leave. But gazing across the Steelphalt Academy’s sun drenched pitches, where the Wales international had been scheduled to train before undergoing a medical in Dorset, Sheffield United’s manager conceded he was no longer surprised by anything in football.
Instead, it took a question about the impact Brooks’ departure will have upon the rest of United’s squad to crack his phlegmatic demeanour.
“I’ve just answered a question over there about building a team around David Brooks,” Wilder, glancing over his shoulder towards a television crew, said. “I think that would be really disrespectful to the likes of John Fleck and Jack O’Connell. Yes, we’d have loved to have kept him. But we’ve still got some really good players here. I look at the group and think, if the season starts now, can we compete in the division? The answer, in my mind, is yes.”
Of course, if United are to improve on last season’s 10th placed finish, they must reinvest a significant slice of Brooks’ £15m fee in new talent. With £12m of that payable when the transfer is processed, Wilder and his coaching staff have begun identifying targets previously beyond their reach despite an improved recruitment budget.
Brooks, aged 20, had been earmarked for an important role next term after signing an improved contract with the Championship club only eight months ago. Although he refused to elaborate on the chain of events which persuaded United to accept a revised offer from the Vitality Stadium, Wilder indicated the player and his agent had communicated, during a series of top secret talks earlier this month, they wished to break that agreement. It spoke volumes that, contrary to predictions on social media he would blow his top, the 50-year-old did nothing of the sort when quizzed on the subject by journalists yesterday. Nevertheless, Wilder’s frustration with some aspects of the modern game was evident.
“That’s for me to come out about on Sunday or Monday when the deal gets done,” he said. “We don’t live in that world now when, in the Sixties or the Seventies, you’d have nine of 10 lads from Sheffield who bleed red and white. There’s too many people involved now, good and bad. There’s personal situations to take into account. You have to work to the best of your ability to get the best for the club.”
“I don’t think anything surprises you in football, especially nowadays,” Wilder continued. “We don’t live in an ideal world. In an idealistic situation, you keep everyone from your academy. We’ve been in League One for six years, we’re moving up but we’re not in the Premier League.”
Brooks made 33 appearances for United last season after progressing through the club’s youth system. Having burst onto the scene with a man-of-the-match display during September’s victory over Sheffield Wednesday, he attracted a £10m offer from Bournemouth three months later but, at Wilder’s behest, that bid was rejected out of hand. The proposal they eventually accepted, albeit begrudgingly, contains a clause entitling United to a significant percentage of any future sale.
Wilder, reflecting upon his side’s push for the play-offs last term, said: “He was part of a really good group that took it to the 45th game of the season. We’d have loved him to play more games but obviously he had a knock back before Christmas.
“We spotted him straight away, we brought him up from the top building to the academy. These things happen in football, I’ve been in it long enough to know that, since I was 16 to just over 50. You just have to get on with it and make the most of it.”
“If he kicks on, he’s got good attributes,” Wilder added. “Every player has to try and fulfil their potential. In terms of the deal the football club have got, in terms of the money being banded about, the club has got a deal. If he does fulfil his potential, we’ve worked numbers in to the deal that protects us as well.”