Comment: Are Sheffield United’s top brass doing enough to help managers?

HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with Kevin McCabe,  Jim Phipps and Sela Baki
HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with Kevin McCabe, Jim Phipps and Sela Baki
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It’s not only about a regrettable failure to beat the fabrications of a transfer deadline – or the ensuing fury around Bramall Lane, which was understandable after supporters were led to believe funding would ensure signings.

Sheffield United still have a mighty wage bill in League One. Why they are not punching its weight is a mystery. If the solution was simple it would have been applied by any of several good managers chewed up in the process.

So the problem is as unfathomable as it is frustrating. It’s not a new phenomenon facing Nigel Adkins, who is trapped by the club’s most recent lurching change of gear and, with body-shedding the order of the day, still awaits a proper chance to shape his and United’s destiny.

Which begs the question of whether the hierarchy has created the right conditions for managers to succeed. That is the fundamental challenge confronting the club’s co-owners, for whom total cohesion on a 50-50 control split is a difficult balancing act but an essential one amid rumours to the contrary.

Critically, too, the team bosses tasked with the problem have all acted from an awareness that it takes a certain type of character to play in front of the third tier’s biggest crowds.

I was reminded of this during a chat with former skipper turned coach and caretaker manager Chris Morgan, now assistant to ex-Blades boss Danny Wilson at Chesterfield.

“It’s not only a question of identifying the right players but those with the right sort of mentality to play in front of 20,000 people when the demands are so high,” he said.

“With the recruitment when I was involved, that was a big thing we spoke about. And the longer it’s League One football the harder it becomes.”

It’s why United’s next raft of signings have to be very finely judged. Especially when you consider that Wilson, Nigel Clough and now Adkins have all been mindful of the essential mix without being able to deliver promotion.

Not that we ever properly found out with Wilson, sacked when on course for a minimum of the play-offs, or Clough as well, considering that a march up the league and two cup semi-final appearances were amazingly insufficient to sustain him. Apparent thinly-veiled attempts to lay blame for the current predicament at Clough’s door, when he worked to the board’s remit, are frankly outrageous.

Incidentally, one thing new to my ears was that Morgan, back with Wilson for a third time, nearly quit the Lane after his mentor was recklessly dismissed.

Morgan did actually take over the reins as caretaker for one of the club’s many play-off attempts but was in turmoil because of his loyalty to Wilson and his number two Frank Barlow.

“It was very hard,” he said. “It was Danny and Frank who invited me onto the coaching staff.

“I worked closely with them. When they left and I was asked to take over, I felt like coming out.

“I felt loyalty to them because they’d done so much for me – but you’ve also got a loyalty to the club.

“I spoke to Danny and Frank and they both encouraged me to do the caretaker job, which made it easier.”

United’s former talisman, who retains strong affection and gratitude towards United, was also shocked by Clough’s axing last summer having forged a bond with him: “Football is always full of surprises and I was as surprised as anybody. Strange things like that do happen.”

Yes, and they keep on happening. With zero benefit. Let this and other lessons be learned so that the Blades can finally get out of this rut.