The good old ‘Transfer Window’.
Much as we all loved Sky’s Jim White and his yellow tie, plus the sight of Harry Redknapp being interviewed in his car, us Blades used to hate the whole month of it as we wondered who would come and plunder our first-team talent.
But times they are a-changing, and hopefully for the better... much better. As the window closed, we’d already done our business, nice and early, with the minimum of fuss, and on the face of it very good business it was too.
The sale of Aaron Ramsdale made very good financial sense to both the club and no doubt the player, and sometimes you just can’t deny young players such a great opportunity. As an incentive to other Academy players it also speaks volumes: if you’re talented, you listen, learn and work hard, the rewards will come. The extended loan of EEL and signing of Lafferty were absolute common sense, whilst Joe Riley will be great cover and Samir Carruthers has been brought in with one eye on the Championship no doubt.
The signings of James Hansen and Jay O’Shea are cases of quality local players being available at the right time, and both reflect the manager's frustration with our current attacking players, which is actually amazing when you look at the amount of goals we’ve scored! However, if you look deeper, we are actually underachieving as an attacking force when you take the sheer volume of chances being created. We need to be more clinical in front of goal and Chris knows this.
Us fans could actually make a case to just keep on doing the same things that have put us in this strong position…a case of “steady as she goes” as we want nothing to rock this Blades promotion boat. But off the pitch, and particularly in terms of player recruitment, there has obviously been a different mindset, as in football if you attempt to just consolidate your position and not keep trying to improve your squad and go forward as a team and as a club, you WILL fall away. Stand still, and others will not only catch you up, they’ll pass you by. We simply can’t let that happen.
Overall, our player recruitment and decisions on them this season have been hugely successful. Without listing all the changes in personnel, the players bought in, both pre-season and during the season have proved their worth and for some I think the best is still yet to come. However decisions on player recruitment and retention are constantly being discussed, analyzed and made throughout the season, and in transfer windows especially, decisions will have been made which could not only hopefully ensure success this season, but will influence chances of success next season.
A major decision for Chris and his off-field team will be what formation we intend to play. In my opinion, this will be a major factor in most of the recruitment decisions in preparation for next season. I know that Chris intended to play this season with his preferred 4-4-2 set up, but circumstances dictated the change to the 3-5-2 system. Do we therefore start next season with it, and subsequently plan for it as it certainly suits this current group of players? Or do we go back to 4-4-2, and target players to suit that? Decisions, decisions...
The world of football scouting and recruitment has never been more complex. With more statistics/data available on players than ever before, coupled with video platforms allowing management, analysts and scouts to view thousands of players from around the world, there has never been such open access to information on potential transfer targets. More access means more options, and more options means that smarter, more organized, and more ‘modern’ clubs have the ability to shine and punch above their weight.
Evidence can be seen at clubs such as Southampton, Bournemouth, Brentford and most spectacularly Leicester last season, who have all punched above their relative weight, and are all superbly organized behind the scenes. At this stage I should declare that I do have some inside knowledge of how football clubs behind-the-scenes technical departments work.
One of my sons, Oliver Gage (a huge Blade by the way!) is Head of Performance Analysis and Technical Recruitment for Houston Dynamo in the MLS, the USA’s equivalent to our Premier League. I’ve been over there a few times over the years and seen him at work. The process these days has come a long way from Dave Bassett’s VHS video recorder and hand-written reports on sheets of A4 paper!
So in future player recruitment terms, Sheffield United will now be somewhat at a crossroads, hopefully waiting for the promotion lights to turn green and then to power on ahead. In the event of securing promotion, we need to be ready to move quickly in the transfer market, targeting players who will not only help us survive in the Championship but help push the club onwards and competing to get amongst the big boys in the top flight.
Everything is set up off the pitch for lasting success at the Lane... the modern ground, the fan base, the infrastructure, the promised further investment, and now we also appear to have the manager and the support staff the club deserves. Therefore once we take the first step back up the Football League ladder, it won’t be a giant leap to get up another.
However, even in the most daunting of journeys sometimes the first step is the hardest to take, but after stumbling for years I believe we’re about to finally take it. Our first step maybe, but hopefully not our last. UTB
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield, S18. @ManorHouse_S18. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev.