James Shield: I feel sorry for Sheffield United's opponents Coventry City and the next Blades owner

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I feel sorry for Coventry City, Sheffield United’s opponents today.

Last week, this afternoon’s visitors to Bramall Lane were hit with a suspended points deduction by the English Football League following the postponement of three matches at the CBS Arena four months ago. For those of you who can’t remember or were out of the country at the time, they were forced because of an issue with the pitch there which stemmed from the fact it had been used for rugby sevens matches at the Commonwealth Games. Wasps, now in administration but who were City’s landlords at the time, were accused of breaking “promises” by the latter’s chief executive Dave Boddy. Nevertheless, they were forced to accept the punishment because of an EFL regulation which stipulates its members are “responsible” for the maintenance of pitches and must also ensure that “adequate arrangements are in place” to ensure playing surfaces are in good order.

Okay, so by the letter of the law they broke that rule. But in my book, it’s a little bit like punishing tenant because the person who owns their flat refuses to fix the boiler. Wasps have since gone bust and so somebody had to cop for it I suppose.

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In a sense, I’m glad that governing bodies have finally woken up to the idea that teams essentially play for points, not pound notes - an argument former United owner Kevin McCabe was derided for pushing during the Carlos Tevez Affair. The farce which unfolded at City meant Mark Robins’ side suffered cashflow imbalances which saw them briefly placed under a transfer embargo, although that has now been lifted ahead of the forthcoming transfer window. The fixture pile-up also threatened to damage the integrity of the competition, affected the clubs they were scheduled to face and impacted, by Boddy’s own admission, on City’s “reputation”. He actually went so far as to label it a “debacle”, explaining City had accepted the EFL’s ruling to try and minimise the effect of the sanction they were facing.

Yes, events over August skewed the race for promotion, battle against relegation and bid for mid-table mediocrity in the Championship. But not half as much, as far as I’m concerned, as AFC Bournemouth’s inadvertent break of its financial regulations en route to promotion during the 2014/15 season. Or West Ham’s decision to select not one but two ineligible players during a campaign which saw retain top-flight status, essentially at United’s expense, nearly a decade earlier. And yet both of those breaches saw fines being doled-out.

Finally both the EFL and the PL, which appears to have beefed-up its profit and sustainability checks, accept that league positions rather than bank balances should be affected when clubs step out of line. It’s just a shame, in this instance, that the people who might cop for it, because the deduction has been stayed, were seemingly powerless to prevent what was happening in the first place. It just goes to show, as United find themselves at the centre of more takeover talk, how important it is that any new owner buys the ground as well as the team.

•Speaking of the fact that Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud could soon be set to leave United, or at least relinquish the majority of his shareholding, it’s also a crying shame that the chatter surrounding who might take over revolves around how much cash they’ve got. I’ve pushed that line myself in Friday’s column because, let’s be frank, United need plenty of it to action some of the plans they have in place as Paul Heckingbottom attempts to ensure they are competing at the highest level again next term. Things like new training grounds, category one academy status, improved contracts for some of its brightest young stars and yes, a major reprofiling of personnel over the summer, don’t come cheap.

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But really, we should all be focusing on the character of whoever might seize control. Okay, so the days of the leading local businessperson deciding to put something back into the community have probably now gone. At least in the upper echelons of the game. But all supporters, assuming they aren’t happy to simply prostitute their club to any passing billionaire, should really be more bothered about personality than pounds, shillings and pence. The fact they aren’t, or can’t afford to be, confirms something has gone rotten at the heart of our national game.

Josh Eccles of Coventry City battles for possession with Ben Osborn of Sheffield United when the two clubs met at the CBS Arena earlier this season: Catherine Ivill/Getty ImagesJosh Eccles of Coventry City battles for possession with Ben Osborn of Sheffield United when the two clubs met at the CBS Arena earlier this season: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Josh Eccles of Coventry City battles for possession with Ben Osborn of Sheffield United when the two clubs met at the CBS Arena earlier this season: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Yes, it’s possible for someone to have lots of dosh and be thoroughly decent. That’s the type of figurehead everyone wants. The type I personally don’t want is a man, woman or individuals linked to the government of some despotic state determined to use a club to launder its reputation. Because United deserve better than that.

Being Saudi Arabian, Prince Abdullah nearly got dragged into the sportswashing debate provoked following the decision of his country’s public investment fund to purchase Newcastle. In fairness to him, being a private individual rather than one of the PIF’s representatives, I thought this was out of order. Not everyone who lived under Thatcher voted for her. I’ve never been but I’m damn sure there are people in Riyadh sickened by what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and who disagree with their government’s record on human rights. For all I know, he might be one of them. But whatever, thankfully this tactic designed to put the spotlight on Bramall Lane rather than St James’ Park didn’t work. It would have been unjust if it had because, despite a recent hiccup, Prince Abdullah’s regime have given women’s football a profile and embraced equality groups.

Much of the reaction to events at Newcastle and the recent World Cup in Qatar proves, as much as it would be lovely to, you can’t separate sport and politics. Sportswashing works, which is why it’s now being practised so damn regularly. I just hope United don’t become part of this damaging cycle.