James Shield: Sheffield United isn't whoever is at the helm - it's all about the people

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Clearly, Dozy Mmobuosi has some skilled PR advisors at his disposal.

A little over a week ago, the man who wants to become Sheffield United’s new owner used a series of pretty soft interviews to outline his vision for the club. Except, really, he didn’t. Probably knowing he wouldn’t be pressed on the exact details of his bid, and filibustering on the rare occasions that he was, Mmobuosi spoke in the broadest of broad terms about things like training ground upgrades, retaining Paul Heckingbottom and perhaps most memorably, downing a pint of Guinness in one of the city’s pubs.

It was enough to earn him the backing of many people on social media, judging by the replies to some of my sceptical posts anyway. And also, perhaps more surprisingly, quite a few journalists too. One report I read sailed very close to the legal wind by labelling a report by another member of my profession, digging into Mmobuosi’s aviation ambitions, as “false”. Another declared his comments as a sign he “understands” the issues and a really good “start” to his tenure at Bramall Lane. Even though it was nothing of the sort. Any five year old with a computer tablet could trawl through the internet and, within the space of 10 minutes, identify the matters the overwhelming majority of United supporters want its leadership to address.

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Sheffield United is about people, its fans and the community is represents: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United is about people, its fans and the community is represents: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United is about people, its fans and the community is represents: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Bizarrely, the debate around Mmobuosi has become ridiculously polarised. Question him and you’ll get comments accusing you of deliberately trying to derail this proposed takeover, (without explaining exactly why), or, even more ridiculously, implying racist motives because he is Nigerian.

For the record, although this shouldn’t really need saying, none of the above are true in my case. My reason for digging into Mmobuosi’s background plus the company he chooses to keep is because a guy I’d never actually heard of - not that there’s anything wrong with that - wants to purchase a grand old footballing institution. One that deserves someone with its best interests at the helm and the wherewithal to turn dreams into reality. Put simply, and accept this statement at face value, I’ve not heard enough from the guy in question to persuade me he ticks that particular box. No one, if they’re being honest with themselves, has yet.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Clearly, the English Football League doesn’t think so either given the statement they issued on Tuesday. “Whilst the League is in receipt of the Share Purchase Agreement and Owners and Directors’ Test declaration, alongside some evidence of source and sufficiency of funding, it has previously raised a number of additional queries with the proposed purchaser and the Club,” it read.

“The EFL has been awaiting a response on those queries for some time and until the League is satisfied that the requirements of its Regulations have been met, it will not process a change of control at the Club.”

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Clearly, as you’ll have noticed since news of his interest in United first broke, a number of red flags have been raised around Mmobuosi relating to his personal and business affairs. These may very well be lowered with some explanations. But until they are, folk are right to learn the lessons of history and refuse to take things at face value. Failing to do so, in my humble opinion, is a disservice to United who are so much more than the person in charge. Like every other team across the country, the world even, they are ultimately about the people who follow them. Their hopes, their aspirations, their memories. They are a community. Not whatever well-tailored backside sits in the biggest boardroom chair. Whether its owner is brilliant or not.

Sheffield United fans will again be travelling in their numbers, this time to Millwall Ashley Crowden / SportimageSheffield United fans will again be travelling in their numbers, this time to Millwall Ashley Crowden / Sportimage
Sheffield United fans will again be travelling in their numbers, this time to Millwall Ashley Crowden / Sportimage

Okay, so the timing of all this drama is unhelpful. I get that argument. Paul Heckingbottom’s side enters today’s game at Millwall second in the Championship table and, despite Wednesday’s defeat by Middlesbrough, still well positioned to win promotion. Fortunately, however, the 45-year-old and his squad have proven remarkably adept at parking United’s off-the-pitch issues, which also include a transfer embargo, and focusing on delivering positive results. Genuinely, I still don’t think they get enough credit for the way they have acquitted themselves of late.

But, in a sense, that’s just tough. Because something much bigger than a single match or even a place in the Premier League is at stake here. And that, as we’ve seen on countless occasions when clubs have fallen into the wrong hands in the past, is the very future of United. Privately, even Heckingbottom would admit this. Particularly given that he has a proven track record of actioning projects, often to the detriment of his own recruitment budget, he feels will be of benefit to his eventual successors and future generations of United players.

Again, and without being personal, Mmobuosi has some important questions to answer. The same goes, if he fails to convince the EFL to sanction a change of control, for whoever throws their hat into the ring next.

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Can you imagine what might have happened to United had they been acquired by Henry Mauriss, the American businessman now languishing in a California jail cell after being found guilty of wire fraud. None of us probed enough back then, accepting much of what we were told as fact when quite clearly it actually wasn’t. We can not afford to make the same mistake again. Ever. Because this is about United. Sheffield United Football Club. Not individuals.

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