As Sheffield United fumble for a way forward, on and off the field, you wonder if they’ve been caught in the tactical cul-de-sac that seems to be entrapping many teams these days.
Suddenly nearly every side at every level is trying to pass the ball from the back. It’s the fashionable way. Long ball is out. So is 4-4-2 in some cases, certainly in the case of the so-called sophisticated elite.
But why try to play a way you don’t have the players to perfect? What’s wrong with a bit of route one if that’s better suited? It’s not only watching the Blades that provokes this question.
Look at the other extreme and examine the success of shock Premier League leaders Leicester City. Well, they play good old 4-4-2 for starters – and then there’s the wonder goal against Liverpool from the ravenously prolific Jamie Vardy that everyone’s still raving about.
Yes, a fantastic angled volley, supreme skill. Not so much made, though, of the long pass from Riyad Mahrez that picked him out. Yes, that’s right, a long ball.
Former Blades goal king and now pungent radio pundit Keith Edwards has a point when he says in reference to United’s pedestrian form: “I’d rather have less possession and more goals.
“I’d like to see more pace in the team and people getting forward from midfield where we’re not seeing anyone scoring.”
It’s not how much of the ball you have but what you do with it. Hard not to conclude that Billy Sharp could do with more of it and quickly enough to add to his impressive 14-goal tally. Mind you, it doesn’t help that when United do try to go long, Conor Sammon has looked a less than effective target man.
Back to Leicester for the most compelling stats of all. I happened to see a Premier League table based on accuracy of passing – and Leicester were BOTTOM. Crucially, it coincided with them making almost the LEAST number of passes. Tells you they made them count. And how much possession did the Foxes need to win 3-1 at Manchester City last week? Just 34%.
Which brings us to the figure of 50% – the shared co-ownership of Sheffield United. Vitally, this is not of the institution as a whole but just the football club – which means that Prince Abdullah seemingly owns 50% of not a lot right now.
As the major team funder since he joined the McCabe family (a reported £13m input), the Prince’s private thoughts leave little to the imagination.
His gamble was on owning 50% of quite a lot – if/when United made the Premier League. Has he reached a funding limit considering it has only bought failure so far? Would he seek a controlling interest in order to put in more?
Whatever the answers, whoever steps forward, the club needs strong and clear leadership from the top. Rightly or wrongly, the January window debacle created the strong impression that manager Nigel Adkins is fronting for a disunited board.
He and his predecessors have numbered too many to be the problem in my opinion.
The reason for expressing that is to try to prevent another rash decision from above and to remove any of those customary suspicions about holding cash for yet another new manager.
With Adkins, incredibly, the region’s longest-serving boss at only eight months, let United take the moral high ground this time. Edwards may be a critic but he favours that, too.