Sheffield United might frustrate the living daylights out of us with their sloth-like approach in the transfer market, which stems from the frankly bizarre idea that you get better value during the final hours of a transfer window. But every so often they have a rush of blood to the head and wrap something up quickly.
Such as when Filip Uremovic became available on a short term basis in March. Which only makes it even more damn annoying when they drag their feet on other deals. For you, me and - although he’d never say so publicly - probably Paul Heckingbottom too.
Folk can dress the situation up how they want. But no one will be able to convince Yours Truly, having heard the manager express a desire to have at least one new player in the building by the time pre-season started, that he was doing cartwheels after being greeted by the same 20 or so faces when his squad reported back for pre-season testing earlier this week. Because, whatever slant people want to put on it, he won’t have been. End of.
The pressing need
Still, as I’ve just outlined, United are capable of having their moments. Hopefully another is fast approaching right now. Because, to put it simply, someone needs to tell Henry Mauriss that his proposed takeover of the club needs to be completed pretty sharp’ish or the whole thing is off. And I say that with no malice, disrespect or prejudice towards the American, whose attempts to purchase HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulziz Al Saud’s shareholding is fast turning into the longest running saga since Beowulf decided to lend Hrothgar a hand protecting his mead hall from Grendel. (I was going to liken it to Katie Price’s bankruptcy and legal issues but that would be ridiculous).
The chief executive of Clear TV, whose profile in the UK and European markets would be boosted if his purchase receives the green light, Mauriss has been attempting to persuade the English Football League to give him the go ahead for what seems like forever. He’s provided evidence of his wealth, detailed his future spending plans and even, according to a number of senior figures at Bramall Lane, changed the financial institution he is using to try and facilitate the process in order to speed things up.
He might be the right person to take United forward. Then again, he might not. Every decision like this carries a degree of risk. But, unless his paymasters believe Heckingbottom’s time is best used next term wrestling with questions he can’t answer about possible boardroom changes, they need to give Mauriss a deadline to push his bid through. Because, as the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief admitted midway through last year, “uncertainty” is a recipe for disaster in professional sport.
Although no one has said so publicly, I detect United’s hierarchy are growing impatient with what is - or rather isn’t - happening as well. Particularly as Mauriss, maybe through no fault of his own, experienced something similar when he tried to acquire Newcastle from Mike Ashley.
Why? Because, given that Mauriss’ £115m offer does not extend to the rest of Prince Abdullah’s United World network, it is surely no coincidence that its own CEO, Abdullah Alghamdi, felt comfortable discussing how Heckingbottom’s squad fits within it at the launch event of a group wide kit deal with Errea last week.
“Commercially, United World makes the brand more global,” he said. “If you say Sheffield in Saudi (Arabia), India, Belgium and France, they mean Sheffield United. This is one impact. Without waving flags, it comes organically.
“The commercial side, we are trying to do deals like this. On the technical side, we are setting more longer term plans to be executed in Sheffield by Hecky.”
For me, Alghamdi’s words were not only designed to try and change perceptions of UW - which isn’t the most popular concept at either United or Beerschot, another of its sister clubs - but also, given their timing, apply some pressure to Mauriss. I’ve been critical of United’s board in the past and probably will be in the future, assuming they remain in place of course. Some very bright minds sit on it. But, in my humble opinion at least, a few of those are a shade muddled when it comes to football.
How can it be, for instance, that a team which made a profit when it was being relegated from the Premier League is forced to borrow against a portion of its parachute payments and some of the multi-million pound fee it received for goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale? Yes, I know most of the money in the game now ends up making its way into players’ pockets. But still. Neither do I subscribe to the utterly ridiculous theory that certain individuals continue to peddle that Chris Wilder, the man responsible for taking United into the top-flight and then guiding them to the brink of Europe, burdened them with expensive wastes of money. Okay, so not every one of his signings worked out. But the majority did. Oh, and the results he achieved brought more than £200m into the coffers. So let’s forget that myth. Likewise, if United really are equipped to spend £70,000 a week financing the wages of a PL loanee, I’m unconvinced they’ve got their priorities right. But that’s for another column.
I will, however, give credit where it’s due. Because even though I know plenty of Prince Abdullah’s associates think otherwise, I always try to be constructive in my criticism. And it stems from a desire to see United do well.
So in this instance, I think both they and UW are right to begin twisting Mauriss’ arm. Because we now need to see real action, not just words and good intentions leaked to friendly journalists.