'Actions speak louder than words' - but have Sheffield United missed the boat in survival bid?

Just over 12 hours after Sheffield United breathed fresh life into their survival bid with a potentially-priceless three points over their nearest relegation rivals, United's owner Prince Abdullah was on the phone to a national radio station from his home in Riyadh.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 5:10 pm

The Saudi Prince isn't one to court publicity. His last interview came in December, before a 3-0 defeat away at Southampton, and was conducted with a single Premier League rights-holder, and distributed to the rest of the local media afterwards.

On Wednesday, just hours after goals from Jayden Bogle and Billy Sharp secured a 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion at Bramall Lane, he was on Talksport with Jim White and former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan.

On air, he repeated his previous support for manager Chris Wilder, revealing he recently flew back to England to meet with the United manager in person.

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H.R.H Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud speaks at a press conference introducing the new owners of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
H.R.H Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud speaks at a press conference introducing the new owners of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

He had White fawning with a joke about not being able to tell the difference between Chris Basham and Lionel Messi, and waxed lyrical about Sharp after the striker scored his latest goal for his boyhood club in front of the Kop.

But, most intriguingly for those of a red and white persuasion, he broke his silence over the Blades' decision not to invest in any new signings during the January transfer window, to boost United's bid to preserve Premier League status.

The Prince essentially confirmed what many observers long suspected - the decision was taken because United might still be relegated this season, and the financial burden of bringing in two January loan signings was a risk that the Bramall Lane board were not willing to take.

Kieran Dowell is just one successful winter loan signing that Sheffield United have made in recent years: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Intriguingly, he seemed to hint that United's previous January loans played a part in the decision. In his time as United manager, Wilder has signed eight players on loan in January - Joe Riley, Jay O'Shea, James Wilson, Kieran Dowell, Gary Madine, Scott Hogan, Richairo Živković and Panagiotis Retsos. It's diffucult to make a case that Wilson and the latter two players were unmitigated successes, while injury restricted Riley to only a couple of appearances in a United shirt.

Yet, at the same time, it would be unfair to ignore the fact that the other four all played their part in securing promotions for United, coming in and adding the required 'bounce' to help the Blades get over the line.

"You always have to position yourself and not think with emotions," the Prince said.

H.H. Prince Musa'ad bin Khalid bin Musa'ad Al Sa'ud, (l) manager Chris Wilder and H.R.H Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud at a press conference: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"We had to look at our position in the table. If we brought in two or three loans and they didn't work out, it would add to the burden that we would have to manage next year.

"You have to look at our past record in loans, especially in January. The board made that decision.

"When the team is playing well, they don't need anyone. I don't think one player could have saved us. We have to save ourselves from within.

"Movies will be made about the story if we manage to escape, but we've got to take it one game at a time. But we still have 16 games to go. We're 10 points behind and it's difficult, but let's take it one game at a time and pray for a miracle to happen.

"The odds are against us but if we perform as we have recently, we can pull it around. We are the team that misses the fans the most ... I really believe they could give us five or six more points.

"I felt really proud and happy [when United beat West Brom].

"It's been a tough depressing season but I don't think we should make excuses, we are where we are now and we have to fight forward."

The decision to stick rather than twist is a huge gamble for the board to have taken, especially considering the fact that United aren't exactly a club who, with a grand total of two-and-a-half seasons at Premier League level since the mid 1990s, can hardly afford to take top-flight football for granted.

The Prince added later in his interview that, even if United are relegated to the Championship, he doesn't think they will be there for long.

Kevin McCabe, his former business partner whose relationship soured so dramatically that it eventually ended in the courts, probably felt the same when United were last relegated in 2007. It took 12 years - six of which were spent in League One - and the genius of Wilder to drag them to the top table again.

"It's impossible to get an exemption to leave the country, but I got one and flew to meet Chris," the Prince added. "To tell him that he is our coach and we are going to stick with him even if we lose all the games.

"I told him some other things that I want to keep between me and him. We have to sit back and look at many things at the end of the season and evaluate it and see what we can do better, look at our recruitment and other things.

"But I told him I believe he can pull us from this and even if you don't, we will stand by you.

"I don't think any team in Premier League history has had a worse start than us and it would be very easy to pull the trigger.

"But we did not do that.

"And as I always say, actions speak louder than words."

Indeed they do. From the outside at least, United's lack of action in January seems to suggest that they have all-but accepted their fate this season.

Granted, it's easy to pass comment when it isn't your money that will keep the club going if United do find themselves in the Championship. But for a club that hasn't taken a backward step since the day Wilder walked through the door, this would seem a very odd time to start.