James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Will The Blades change their minds in the market again?
Yes, Sheffield United have previous when it comes to a dramatic change of plans.
Only 12 months ago, several agents attempting to place their clients at Bramall Lane privately told The Star that Chris Wilder had around £10m to work with during the mid-season window.
Although the manager himself refused to spill any trade secrets, both out of loyalty to his employers and to retain a strong hand during negotiations with prospective transfer signings, the sources in question were all respected, experienced operators known for their knowledge of club balance sheets and market trends.
Then suddenly, with all of United’s maneuvers confirming the veracity of this information, a £22m deal was brokered for Sander Berge. Someone, somewhere behind the scenes, had clearly sanctioned a revision of Wilder’s recruitment budget. Berge, now recovering from surgery to reattach a severed hamstring, cost more than double the amount folk with detailed commands of their respective briefs believed had been placed at Wilder’s disposal.
But with only 96 hours to go until this winter’s window closes, and two confirmed targets set to complete moves elsewhere, it now seems likely that United, whose coaching staff had cast admiring glances in the direction of Ben Davies and Jesse Lingard, will not be unveiling any new faces before the latest deadline.
Admittedly, with Wilder’s side 10 adrift of safety at the bottom of the table, it is not difficult to construct an argument, a very compelling argument in fact, that it is better to save any money set aside for reinforcements and spend it this summer instead.
Assuming, of course, that a conscious decision has been taken not to progress the two loan deals the manager had initially been promised. The phrase ‘Throwing good money after bad’ immediately springs to mind.
But make no mistake, with Wilder admitting before last night’s stunning victory over Manchester United that “we are squeezing everything we can” out of an injury ravaged squad, if his employers have deliberately chosen to keep their hands in their pockets then they are taking a huge risk.
Why? Because of the message it will send to a group of players who, as results have shown, are clearly in need of help. Spending must always be considered. So, although the accountants and statisticians now seemingly running the game seldom recognise it, must the feelings and emotions of folk involved in it.
Football matches aren’t won or lost on computer screens or calculators. Science is useful but it has its limits.
How, for example, do you quantify Lionel Messi’s vision or Fernando Totti’s imagination? Or, closer to home, how effectively telling a team that the white flag has been raised in the battle to avoid relegation will impact upon Wilder’s attempts to ensure it continues to battle on?
“Stats, history, they’re all stacked against us,” he said before the visit to Old Trafford and this weekend’s clash with Manchester City.
“You’re required to do something out of the ordinary. But one result, genuinely, can galvanise everything, It can kick start something special. You just never, ever, know. What I do is that these lads always fight.”
The pain and frustration, if they finish only two or three victories short of survival when the fixture schedules concludes, would be unimaginable if no genuine attempt has been made to attract fresh blood. Even though, as stated earlier, one can understand why this might be the case.
Equally, it might not be with, at the time of writing, only four permanent deals being completed across the entire division.
“We knew we had to be perfect, or as near to it as possible, to get something,” Wilder said, after goals from Kean Bryan and substitute Oliver Burke saw them beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. “I thought the lads gave everything they had and they got close. They had to be.”
“You only have to look at our bench, where we couldn’t fill it, to realise that we certainly can’t afford to let anyone go,” he continued, in response to reported interest in some of his players. “I don’t think that would be a good idea, would it.
"So no, I don’t see that happening. Because it wouldn’t be sensible. We’ve got to try and build on what we’ve just gone out there and done and hopefully we can do that. We’ll certainly be trying.”
Professional pride will ensure no one associated with United wants to go down or, worse still, go down with the lowest points total in Premier League history. They are still three shy of the total Derby County set in 2008. But Wilder’s effort to galvanise those under his command, and their mood, will be affected if folk suspect this term has already been written off. And clubs without a sense of purpose inevitably drift.
The chances are United will be relegated. But as history has shown, how you are relegated is also important.
Hopefully, if Monday’s deadline does pass without incident, those in command have devised a plan to ensure a side which has achieved so much in recent years still feels engaged, respected and trusted. And that those who remain on the books start next season in the highest possible spirits.
Gesture politics rightly attract derision. But they are practised because, just like cosmetic or short term investments in football, they can be an effective tactic.
Particularly after an event such as the one we witnessed the other night.