IT was a process which started with Sheffield United’s board of directors sifting through a pile of paperwork big enough to make even the most conscientious of researchers weep.
But, after an exhaustive and rigorous selection process involving over 50 high-calibre candidates, the South Yorkshire club were last night on the verge of concluding their search for Micky Adams’ successor with Danny Wilson, Mark Robins and Keith Hill understood to be the names on a three-man shortlist.
Having resolved to wait until after Tuesday’s second leg of the FA Youth Cup Final before making a decision, United’s hierarchy yesterday announced the successful applicant will be unveiled at noon.
Puffs of white smoke have yet to emerge from Bramall Lane, but with a major overhaul of their first team squad required ahead of next season’s League One campaign time is of the essence.
With Kevin McCabe, United’s plc chairman, insisting that an in-depth knowledge of the lower divisions was essential in order to be considered for the post, it comes as little surprise to learn the identities of those whose claims have resonated most inside the boardroom.
Wilson’s previous associations with Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley would not sit comfortably with some of United’s more militant supporters. But a closer inspection of his achievements, which include a promotion with Hartlepool and a play-off final at Swindon, confirm his ability to deliver results on a restricted budget.
Likewise, having worked extensively with a young Chris Morgan at Oakwell, Wilson is guaranteed at least one influential admirer on the playing staff should he get the nod.
Intriguingly, he has also tackled challenges similar to the ones United are likely to face this summer at Victoria Park and, most notably, The County Ground.
“We’ve got an excellent crop of youngsters coming through,” McCabe said after dispensing with Adams’ services. “That has been one of the highlights of what has otherwise been a wretched season.
“They are the core of what we are trying to do but we will also try to make strategic signings. To get the blend right and give ourselves the best possible chance.”
“What is very clear is that those youngsters will not miss the opportunity to play in the first team-squad here,” McCabe added.
“In the past we have probably been guilty of overlooking some of the home-grown talent we’ve brought through. We’ve probably been too quick to look elsewhere rather than at what we’ve already got first.
“There have been players who have left here who have gone on to have good careers elsewhere and arguably that shows they could have done just as good a job as some of those we subsequently brought in on a short-term basis.
“That’s not a criticism of the loan players we’ve brought in, far from it.
“But we shouldn’t ignore what we’ve got here, especially when we’ve all seen what some of those we allowed to depart can do.”
Robins, who tendered his resignation at Barnsley earlier this month, was a late entrant into the race to fill a vacancy created when Adams paid the price for failing to
preserve United’s Championship status.
But he thrust himself into contention with an impressive presentation outlining the steps required to transform United’s fortunes during a meeting with McCabe’s representatives over the weekend.
Together with Wilson, stints with United’s neighbours do not immediately endear him to some United followers.
But having been seduced by Adams’ status as a dyed-in-the-wool Blade - “I’ve been a fan of this team since childhood,” he said soon after his arrival from Port Vale – McCabe is known to be attracted by the possibility of making a completely clean break with the past. That’s a situation which encouraged Wilson to press ahead with his bid to take charge.
Despite reports to the contrary, Hill is also believed to have discussed a move to United with McCabe and his colleagues.
The 42-year-old, who also represented Blackburn Rovers and Plymouth Argyle during his playing career, twice guided the Lancastrians into the League Two play-offs before gaining promotion at the third attempt.
Like Robins, Hill watched United’s youngsters in action at Old Trafford earlier this week after rejecting the chance to replace his rival at Oakwell.
“I was not eager to leave a job I am very happy doing,” Hill said. “I was flattered that attention came from Barnsley, a Championship club, because that division is a tremendous one.
“But after a lot of deliberation, I have decided to withdraw from taking the post.”