One down. One big one to go. David Brooks. For perspective, and with no disrespect, question marks over his future are not in the same league as those that had encircled the manager.
But the act of keeping Chris Wilder carries huge value - both real and symbolic - when it comes to the expectation of a similar approach with Sheffield United’s best players.
That said, sometime this summer the club is likely to be faced with a major decision on its biggest on-field asset. For all the relief and joy over the management team’s new deal, it would be a mistake to think there is a huge budget increase or that Wilder will be launched into the orbit of multi-million pound signings. And that still leaves Brooks’ future in the balance for me. That is not the starting point, nor should it be. Wilder’s position will be as entrenched as it was during the last window. Parting with the gifted 20-year-old would have to be more the board’s call than his.
Much as he is grateful to the owners for rekindling his ambitions, he is not likely to gift Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah an easy way out of generating finance amid a problem their own ambitions, allied with circumstances, have contrived.
Besides, Brooks has never been the issue. Except for what he represents – as the most talked-about talent in a team that, if it is seriously to go forward from much progress made, needs to be strengthened not weakened. Championship clubs are BUYING players for what he is worth these days – at £10m and £15m. No-one expects the Blades to do likewise, certainly not Wilder. It’s about fine margins. If the budget for next season had again been around the sixth lowest in the division then it would have been realistic to anticipate, at best with over-achievement, a mid-table finish. If it’s now mid-table funding then a similar six-place jump for punching above weight could equal the play-offs.
You suspect Wilder would only consider selling Brooks on his own account if bids reached to the £15m – and crucially (preferably) with a loan-back arrangement, similar to Kyle Walker joining Spurs a few years ago. Spending a good proportion of the proceeds would also be desired. Then and only then would it all add up. So the issue can’t be entirely discounted.
Brooks didn’t have the hoped-for impact when he was unleashed late last season. Overall, he made 35 appearances (mostly from the bench) and scored just three goals. But glandular fever took a huge bite out of his campaign and left him debilitated. Keep him for next season, get him firing and the valuation gossip (involving Spurs, Bournemouth and unnamed others) could be doubled to £20m-£30m
Yes, you can cite reasons to sell (and then only to reinvest). Strikers are being sought to compete with Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp – would this squeeze Brooks out of that area and where is his best position? Can he be allowed a free role?
It is not beyond Wilder’s resourceful management team to devise a liberating plan for the youngster. They will have tricks up their sleeve; nothing, not even the innovative style of last season, stays exactly the same.
And several “what if” scenarios will be under preparation because, where Brooks is concerned, you just can’t call the outcome at this stage.