Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United column: Let’s keep these hands on the Blades tiller

Strike one thing from the many uncertainties facing Sheffield United over the next four-to-seven matches.

Wednesday, 17th April 2019, 4:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th April 2019, 5:02 pm
Paul Mitchell of Sheffield United

Assuming the management stays the same - as you hope it will, in whatever division - the key strategies are already in place. Right down to which players to shop for.

Being ahead of the game, for all eventualities, has been a given at Bramall Lane since Chris Wilder took charge in the summer of 2016.

Keeping it that way will be pretty remarkable considering the ongoing power battle between the joint owners, which could only intensify with a Premier League club to fight over.

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And while there would be no bigger gap to bridge on the field, Wilder’s management team are determined to see core principles remaining intact.

Head of recruitment Paul Mitchell spelt them out quite matter-of-factly when we spoke recently.

* Value for money.

* The right characters.

* Group togetherness.

* Continuity

From the last, you can practically guarantee already that, if promotion is won, most of the players who achieve it will get their chance at the top level.

From the first, you can assume there will be limits on spending.

And from the two in the middle, I can foresee little change to a predominantly British-is-best approach.

“I would have thought whether it’s promotion or not, we’re in a certain market,” Mitchell told me. “We have a fair idea what could be available and what we feel we could get.”

Although Paul has conducted a sweep of Europe and South America in the last few weeks, the criteria for signings won’t change for either division. “It’s really important they mix with the group ... not disrupt the togetherness ... it’s amazing how far that takes you,” he insisted, pointing to Fulham’s swift descent from the top flight as a lesson for others.

Mitchell’s suspicion – “only a perception” – is that Fulham were guilty of “virtually ripping the soul out of the side” when they embarked on a huge spending spree after promotion. “Maybe if they’d kept the core group they might have had more togetherness.”

That sort of camaraderie is also an answer to the “political correctness” that has fuelled ridiculous mutterings about Wilder having recruited solely on the home front. “It’s not a British squad by design,” Mitchell points out. “Chris hasn’t got any sort of policy. It’s about the right player, the right time, the right character.”

Recent scouting forays show the net is far wider – for awareness – and foreign arrivals can’t be ruled out.

“But,” warns former Blades academy chief Ron Reid, “they can’t destroy the chemistry.”

Reid, still in close touch with what he calls “a vibrant atmosphere” around the United training ground, recommends only “English-thinking foreign players.”

He added: “We’ve seen too many coming into the country who aren’t geared for English football. Many of them come along for the money, there’s no doubt about that. But to be successful you’ve got to immerse yourself in English traditions, the way we play and what it means to the fans.

“It’s so important to get that chemistry and Sheffield United have got that.”

In much the same way, United have successfully shunned the continental model that has left the managers of many clubs outside of transfers looking in.

Mitchell calls it “bang on” that Wilder and his team lead recruitment in tandem with chief executive Stephen Bettis, “who is in contact with the owners.”

“I think that’s the way it should be. At the end of the day, the manager’s got to coach the players, manage them, know their character.”

If all that sounds old fashioned, well, what’s so wrong with that? But it’s an impression Wilder is always understandably keen to qualify.

“Chris has not only got the desire and passion, he’s got the brains as well - the whole package,” Mitchell insists.

“He’s 24/7 the bloke. Hands on with everything but he delegates really well.”

Let’s hope those hands stay on the tiller at Bramall Lane for as long as possible.