James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Okay, they can’t go financially toe to toe with most of the Championship but January will show if The Blades are serious about helping Chris Wilder reach the Premier League

Sheffield United are facing a big month in January
Sheffield United are facing a big month in January

It is around this time of year that Chris Wilder and his staff lock themselves in a room, arm themselves with mugs of strong coffee and tea, and begin finalising their transfer targets for the January window.

Sheffield United's season might be only 14 games old, yes there are nearly 10 weeks to go until the market reopens for business, but the complexity of football contracts means deals must begin being brokered now if they are to be processed immediately after Christmas. Or, at the very least, budgets decided and arrangements put in place so managers and players can assess their options.

When Wilder first took charge of United, he revealed how the walls of his office were adorned with post-it notes detailing the attributes and projected costs of potential signings. Two years, one promotion and play-off challenge later, his bolt-hole inside the Steelphalt Academy resembles an actual working area rather than a set from Memento. After resuscitating the club from a coma with a course of shock therapy, only tiny tweaks rather than wholesale changes are required to enable this squad, which enters tomorrow's game against Wigan Athletic ranked third, to realise its potential.

Last week, I wrote how the next two-and-a-bit months would prove the biggest test of United's co-owners' ability to put their differences aside and help Wilder make the necessary adjustments. HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Kevin McCabe were able, by accident and design, to lay the foundations for a successful summer with John Egan and Oliver Norwood among those to arrive. With both still jostling for control, they must do so again. 

The circumstances, however, have now changed. Firmly in the hunt for automatic promotion, United can not contemplate losing one of their prized assets as they did, three months ago, when David Brooks joined AFC Bournemouth. And, even though the slice of his £11.5m fee earmarked for purchases remains intact, an injection of capital could still be required.

Why? Because with four of their five most influential attackers over the age of 30, United must recruit a young centre-forward to ensure fatigue does not take its toll.

Defender John Egan joined Sheffield United during the January transfer window

Defender John Egan joined Sheffield United during the January transfer window

With top Championship clubs unlikely to sell to a direct rival, all roads lead towards a Premier League loan. Which, with average wages in the top-flight now surpassing the £50,000 a week mark, could require further financial undertakings from the board.

It emerged, during a recent court hearing, that Prince Abdullah and McCabe disagree about how to fund United's operations until their dispute is resolved. One way or the other. So, with Mr Justice Fancourt noting neither "wanted to damage the club",  they must negotiate some sort of compromise to provide the necessary funds should the need arise.

One of the hallmarks of Wilder's regime has been the ability to improve already gifted players. This is a group built on good coaching, not a cheque book. But, given the potential rewards on offer, players capable of making an immediate impact are now required.

So did David McGoldrick

So did David McGoldrick

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Chris Wilder and Kevin McCabe

Chris Wilder and Kevin McCabe