Marc McNulty, who may or may not make his Bradford City debut against Gillingham tomorrow, is a gifted centre-forward.
But the fact he appears destined to finish the season on loan in West Yorkshire rather than here at Bramall Lane underlines the danger of failing to devise a coherent footballing strategy behind the scenes. Something which, thankfully, Chris Wilder seems intent on rectifying after taking charge of Sheffield United in May. There will, as the likes of Dean Hammond, Kieran Wallace and Martyn Woolford have discovered, inevitably be casualties of this new joined-up approach. But, hopefully, fewer situations where talented players such as McNulty and, to a lesser extent, Paul Coutts, Stefan Scougall and Kieron Freeman simply fall through the gaps as the club lurches from one manager and tactical template to the next.
United have appointed nine different managers since being relegated from the Premier League in 2007. And, on almost every occasion, a change at the helm has also brought a change of tactics too. From the faded ‘galacticos’ of the Bryan Robson era to more ‘up and at ‘em’ style favoured by his successor Kevin Blackwell. In recent years, United tasked David Weir with implementing a more cultured template before, after 13 games, deciding the Scot’s methods were doomed to fail and announcing that Nigel Clough’s ‘back to basics’ attitude was actually the way to go. The are totally different characters - both in the spotlight and behind the scenes - but Wilder shares more in common with the former England international than his immediate predecessor Nigel Adkins.
This chaotic lack of direction is understandable. United are desperate to return to the Championship after five years in the third tier. But it is expensive, damaging and, both in a sporting and a business sense, inexcusable too.
Why else has the club found itself stockpiling players who, despite all having something to offer, are either sold, loaned or paid-off after struggling to command first team places? Because they do not possess the skill sets the man at the helm requires to implement his methods, that’s why.
Wilder has shown a clear sense of direction and purpose since returning to South Yorkshire which, to be fair, now seems to be present at board level too.
He should be guaranteed, assuming the team does not suffer a catastrophic downturn, two years in the job. Allowed, in tandem with the owners, academy and supporters, to lay down the core principles to which United, no matter what, must always subscribe.
Otherwise McNulty, who admittedly is still learning the finer points of his profession, will not be the last victim of circumstance at the club.