Sheffield United: Paul Coutts' return to full-time training lifts the mood at Bramall Lane after a day of frustration in the transfer market
It speaks volumes about his importance and influence at Bramall Lane that, even though Paul Coutts will not feature on the team sheet against Middlesbrough this evening, the midfielder's return to full-time training was the talk of the Steelphalt Academy yesterday.
Chris Wilder was clearly intent on pushing the issue; and not just because it represented a welcome distraction from the news a deal for Martyn Waghorn, one of Sheffield United's leading transfer targets, had fallen through.
Simply that Wilder, who usually prefers to talk about the group as a whole rather than individual players, recognises the qualities Coutts brings to his squad.
"Paul starts working properly again today," the United manager said. "Which is great news for everyone, not least the lad himself obviously. He's got to go through the same processes now anyone else in his position would have to; playing development games and behind closed doors friendlies to build up his fitness. But it will be great to see him back out there with the boys again."
Wilder has done his best to play down Coutts' significance since the 30-year-old broke a leg nine months ago. Reluctant to heap too much pressure on the Scot's shoulders, United's coaching staff also feared the message obsessing about his talents might convey to other members of the team. Yet, as an analysis of results before and after Coutts' diagnosis demonstrates, he is a pivotal cog in Wilder's machine. United had won nearly three quarters of their games in all competitions until Coutts was ruled-out midway through last term. Top of the table in November, they eventually finished 10th having triumphed or taken maximum points from less than a third. A startling difference, as even Wilder will privately acknowledge.
"Couttsy has been working hard all summer," he said. "But until now, he's been dropping in and dropping out again. He's been training for a couple of days, maybe even three, and then sitting a few sessions out. But he's back with us properly now."