Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: Lifting the lid on the methods of a vital cog in Chris Wilder's transfer machine
Somewhere in Paul Mitchell’s office (if he has one) or in the brain he uses as a computer, there is a list of Sheffield United targets. For the 2020-21 season.
That’s how far ahead Bramall Lane’s head of recruitment plans. If not further.
Actually, make that two lists of targets. One for a second season in the Premier League; another for if the Blades take a step back.
That’s not pessimism. It’s actually no different to the two scenarios he has been meticulously addressing for the past couple of years.
Speak to Mitch about the workload and the complexity and he’ll shrug it off as a normal ongoing exercise.
But is it? Normal, that is. Many clubs live in the moment, swapping not only managers but entire backroom teams, effectively making it up as they go along.
One of the foundation stones Chris Wilder has put in place at Bramall Lane is continuity and within that his recruitment chief is an absolute rock.
So the signings you see this summer will not be players suddenly taken a shine to during a tough encounter in March or even as far back as last August. They will have been earmarked and monitored long before that.
Luke Freeman, Callum Robinson, Ravel Morrison ... leading on to Ben Osborn ... the surprise link with Bournemouth’s Lys Mousset ...and possibly Neal Maupay or Oli McBurnie ... all will have been under the Mitchell microscope for a long time.
What you won’t know – and neither do I – are those higher premium established top-flight players who will have been itemised by Mitchell in the event of a financial uplift, a takeover or cash injection.
Certainly, that will already be a factor in his early projection for 2020-21. So effectively there are three lists, not one.
The current strategy is an extension of the blueprint that has brought the Blades up two divisions in three seasons; finding talent at a price and an age where it can be developed.
While Wilder rightly takes the credit for putting the whole operation in place, and running it to near perfection, it’s impossible to overstate the job being done by Mitchell.
Whenever I discuss Chesterfield’s disappearance from the League with friends in football the conversation always turns to Mitchell, his departure from a club where he was a star-finder and his move 12 miles up the A61.
He’s far from being a name in the media, content with a low profile, but those in the game, those who see how it works, constantly pay tribute in those conversations you never hear about. When I remarked to Wilder once about the popularity of Mitchell’s appearances on my weekly Sheffield Live show, he simply said: “Everybody knows Mitch.”
That they do, from non-league (where he once managed Worksop Town) and now right through the divisions to the very top. You’ll have noticed another consistent thread in United’s recruitment this summer – so far, anyway.
They’re still signing British players. Not, I’m assured, because of any fixed anti-foreign policy. Indeed, Mitchell has been on several overseas missions this year, including one to South America.
It’s simply that the mentality they require from a footballer is more characteristic, at the level that can be afforded, of players within these shores. And the dressing room is all the tighter for it.
The names this summer may not have set the football world alight. But an enlightened approach is showing the the way for so many.