James Shield: Creative tension at Sheffied United could work to the club's advantage providing it's combined with wit, wisdom and contrition
Sheffield United were also going to face a huge challenge next season.
Okay, so the one they are probably going to be presented with isn’t the one they envisaged at the beginning of the campaign. Despite always recognising that relegation was a distinct possibility nobody, not manager Chris Wilder nor owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud wrote it into the club’s summer schedule using bright red indelible ink.
But barring the type of comeback not seen since Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, strengthening, galvanising and plotting another promotion from the Championship will feature at the top of United’s agenda following May’s home game against Burnley. After all, they enter this weekend’s match at Leicester City at the bottom of the Premier League table and 12 points adrift of safety with only 10 games remaining. Even the authors of the Gospel of St John would probably baulk at such a dramatic plot twist.
Hopefully identifying and then hiring a new manager doesn’t also feature on the agenda, given the obvious tensions behind the scenes. Replacing Wilder at the helm, when he eventually does depart, will be a tough enough job for whoever gets the gig as it is without having to deal with the chaos of a disorderly transition. And if the differences between Bramall Lane’s boot room and board room aren’t resolved then, whoever’s side you’re on, we can all agree that nothing good will come of the situation if a large chunk of supporters feel Wilder - after leading United from the third to the first tier of English football - has been sacked or forced out.
But like I say, even if the past six months had gone swimmingly, United would still have found themselves grappling with a major issue. It is one which will be familiar to a number of their top-flight rivals, particularly those in the middle third of the division, and it’s called ‘Retaining Interest’.
Given the disparity in spending power across the competition, huge swathes of those taking part are effectively only existing. They won’t challenge for the title. They’re too good to go down. But not go
od enough that that the guy at the helm feels comfortable enough having a real tilt at either the FA or EFL cups by selecting their strongest elevens in the early rounds. So their chances of regularly challenging for a headline slot at Wembley are pretty slim too.
Little wonder, when the boredom begins to really set in, politics and other off the pitch issues get blown up out of all proportion. Which creates a problem in itself. Likewise when well-run operations get accused of lacking ambition because they can’t bridge the gap between themselves and the top six.
So although it sounds ridiculous - as ridiculous as the suggestion that going down can sometimes be a good thing - United can emerge from their present predicament even stronger. Providing those at the helm, both directors and coaching staff, use their wit, their wisdom and, to bring order behind the scenes, show a little contrition.
Because United, for good or for bad, certainly isn’t a dull place right now. That energy, that creative tension and the sense of involvement it creates, just needs to be properly channeled.