Sheffield United have enjoyed lots of sun, sand and maybe a drop or two of sangria since arriving in Spain earlier this week.
Chris Wilder, a manager who allows his teams to play hard if they work even harder, might even have allowed them a few San Miguels. But their five night stay in Marbella, which culminates with a friendly against Primera División club Malaga this evening, is deadly serious stuff. Possibly the most important 120 hours of their entire pre-season programme if you ask me.
Talk of team spirit and togetherness being the driving forces behind United’s march to the League One title last season has, admittedly, begun to sound a little sugary and twee. That, however, does not disprove the theory. A clear focus, shared vision and dressing room so tight you could almost hear the pips squeak all helped Wilder’s side leave the rest of the division trailing in its wake. Those qualities were important when United, despite the downward pressure on their budget following years of injudicious extravagance, enjoyed a bigger budget than the majority of their rivals. They will be absolutely imperative next term when, for all their stature and tradition, Wilder’s squad find themselves competing against clubs who have tens of millions to spend in the transfer market.
The ability of Wilder and his coaching staff, not least assistant Alan Knill and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, to identify supposedly unfashionable footballers whose potential has not been tapped, should be admired. Especially inside the boardroom at Bramall Lane where, even if co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud decided to cut the purse strings, they can not compete with teams like Aston Villa who can pay their new centre-half a reported £80,000 a week. (Or, to put it another way, less than three per cent of Queens Park Rangers’ most recent parachute payment).
So ensuring the ties that bind United’s dressing room are more taut than ever and coalescing new signings Richard Stearman, Ched Evans, Enda Stevens, Nathan Thomas and George Baldock into this congenial group are likely to have a major bearing on results in the Championship. Living in each others’ pockets will have accelerated that process. Likewise, in my humble opinion, allowing the players to share a few rounds of golf and even an ice cold beer.
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