Many years ago, a manager who might or might not have been George Graham, revealed one of his golden rules about buying players to a national newspaper.
I can’t remember his identity with absolute certainty. Or, to be perfectly honest, the exact words he said. But they still strike a chord and, because the devil is not in the detail, I’ll paraphrase instead.
“Always,” they told the interviewer, “Sign people who view coming to your club as a step-up. Never a step-down. That way, you have a squad who feel they owe you something. Not the other way around.”
Even though the business of football has changed beyond all recognition, despite the fact one Championship team has lavished so much on a single midfielder it would cover the yearly school fees for over 3,000 impoverished children in Africa, those words are still genius. And, in my humble opinion, go a long way towards explaining why Sheffield United have assembled a squad bristling with fight, character and commitment, under Chris Wilder’s stewardship.
I was reminded of them earlier this week when, during conversation with a colleague, it became apparent they wanted Bramall Lane’s board of directors and coaching staff to embark upon a major recruitment drive during the forthcoming transfer window. It was difficult to argue with the reasoning. Or, barring a sudden change in circumstances, disagree with the argument that United, third in the Championship ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Millwall, might not enjoy a better shot at promotion for many a long year. Nevertheless, although Wilder would undoubtedly welcome a slight relaxing of the purse strings, their results and performances over the past 18 months demonstrate it is possible to identify and acquire quality footballers from further down the pyramid who satisfy the above criteria.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Privately, United’s senior players have frequently expressed their respect for the attitude and application both Jamal Blackman and Cameron Carter-Vickers have shown since arriving on loan from Chelsea and Spurs respectively.
But it would surely be a mistake, given the excesses and extreme disappointment of the Bryan Robson era, to try and tempt established Premier League players to South Yorkshire. Even if finances allowed.
I can think of one high-profile example, not a million miles away, who confirms Mr Graham’s fears suspicions about folk with big CV’s and a sense of entitlement to match.