No club, well no club without a generous billionaire owner at least, suffers relegation and barely sees it cause a ripple on the balance sheet. Covid-19, or rather the social distancing restrictions imposed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic - restrictions some folk seem to have become a little bit too comfortable with for my liking - will only have accentuated the effect.
Sheffield United’s decision to focus primarily on the loan market as they prepare for next season’s return to the Championship is a recognition of their circumstances, a nod towards the landscape they will soon be hiking through and also an attempt to secure players whose calibre would usually put them beyond Bramall Lane’s reach.
Taking this route has served them well in the past, particularly during their penultimate full season under former manager Chris Wilder, when the likes of Dean Henderson, Gary Madine, Scott Hogan, Kieran Dowell and initially Oliver Norwood all helped them climb out of the second tier. Wilder’s replacement, Slavisa Jokanovic, also has form in this area - plundering top-flight squads during Fulham’s march through the same division a year earlier.
Although the Serb’s contacts makes focusing extensively but not exclusively on temporary transfers during the forthcoming window a sensible policy, it is not without risk. If those borrowed perform well, there is always a danger they could be summoned back to their parent teams at the very moment United hope to be cementing their status as automatic promotion contenders. If they don’t settle as hoped, then there is a danger that having too many people in a dressing room whose careers do not hinge on United’s fortunes can gnaw away at spirit and morale.
It is for precisely this reason why United should take a leaf out of the handbook Jokanovic used at the start of the 2017/18 campaign, when Tamas Kalas, Lucas Piazon and later Aleksandar Mitrovic were among those to arrive at Craven Cottage. Contracted to Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, the trio clearly all had talent. But not quite enough, in the case of the first two at least, to trouble the starting eleven at Stamford Bridge. Mitrovic, meanwhile, was clearly unsettled at St James’ Park and would later complete a permanent transfer to west London - where he remains to this day.
Obviously there will be exceptions to the rule I’m proposing. If, let’s say for example, Thomas Tuchel decides a stint in South Yorkshire is exactly what Billy Gilmour needs to further his development then United would be foolish to turn it down. But 80 percent - a figure I’ve admittedly just plucked out of thin air to emphasise my point - of the loans United plan to broker must be for individuals who would consider moves to Bramall Lane if they help take them up.
In other words, individuals who will make an emotional as well as physical investment in the club.