Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: Blades might be 'a team of no stars' but Chris Wilder's star men are now worth a pretty penny
It’s a team of “no stars”, so they say, and the current focus remains on recruitment to Sheffield United’s Premier League bandwagon.
But there is a more accurate yardstick of the Blades’ remarkable low budget progression under Chris Wilder. It’s probable there is not a single senior established player at Bramall Lane who could currently be bought by a Championship outfit - or even the top one in Scotland for that matter.
Celtic’s early-summer approach for one of the more unsung members of Wilder’s squad has been almost forgotten.
Yet that swiftly rebuffed play for George Baldock, involving a supposed £3m bid, demonstrates more than anything how far United have moved on.
For one thing, they did not have to sell and for another the player in question (also now linked with Stoke) showed no inclination to move.
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It also raised the question of just how much many others in this “team of no stars” is actually worth. And of how Wilder’s management team has accumulated a group of rapidly escalating value.
United were among the lower wage payers in the Championship and yet there is barely a club at that level in a position now to entice or match the valuations of, say, John Egan, Jack O’Connell, John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, Enda Stevens etc.
If this sounds undramatic in the light of the Blades’ elevation to the Premier League, think again.
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire, of Liverpool University, has affirmed this column’s suspicion of earlier this summer that the bottom has gone out of the Championship market.
Suddenly those eight figure transfers have disappeared as clubs wrestle with Profit and Sustainability regulations and begin to rein themselves in from chasing the dream.
“On average, owners are paying out £300,000 to £400,000 a week just to keep going,” says Maguire after a year of spectacular losses across the board.
The relevance for United is that, although they were not set up to over-commit in the manner of others, they have escaped this vortex just in time.
They are also well placed, says Maguire, to “do a Burnley” and push to recover their Premier League status from a position of strength should they be relegated.
And all of this is founded on exceptional low-fee, or even free, recruitment of a raft of players in early-to-mid career who have had the application to fulfil their potential and massively increase their worth.
The significance to a club like United of the re-sale value of signings they make can even be demonstrated by those eclipsed from view last season.
Displaced goalkeeper Simon Moore cost around £450,000 and shadow midfielder John Lundstram a little more than that. Both could be expected to fetch at least similar figures should they move on.
You are talking multiples in the case of those listed early in this article. Similarly, newly acquired Luke Freeman at around £4-5m has strong re-sale status.
So would the strongly linked pair of Neal Maupay (22-year-old Brentford striker) and Nottingham Forest midfielder Ben Osborn (24).
The homecoming Phil Jagielka is, of course, something different at 36. By enlisting the veteran’s example, experience and leadership, Wilder had earned himself a rare indulgence in this case - an expensive 12 month investment that will pay for itself if Jags helps the side stay up.
There have been no others anywhere near this category. Mark Duffy, now 33, has paid for himself several times over and the dependable Richard Stearman (31) has been influential, too.
In the main, it’s been recruitment with an eye to the longer-term future and that future is now dawning, underpinned by welcome confirmation of Wilder’s inevitable new deal.
It’s up to the group to seize its chance, of course, but there is no reason to change the recruitment philosophy that has brought United this far.