James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Chris Wilder is right...the EFL should press the reset button

There is a passage, midway through Ian Rankin's superb novel 'In a House of Lies', where John Rebus finds himself bemoaning the pervasive influence of the internet after being tasked with reviewing a cold case by a former colleague.

By James Shield
Thursday, 14 March, 2019, 16:34
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

"Anyone and everyone felt they had something to say and they weren't about to hold back," the retired detective ruminates as he sits quietly in a pub. "The public probably reckoned they were better informed than ever. They were, but not always by the truth."

Events following Sunday's derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa proved, despite being a work of fiction, John certainly has a point. Jack Grealish, having earlier been the victim of a cowardly on-the-pitch assault, then found himself being taunted by some spotty keyboard warrior about the death of his brother 19 years ago. (Actually, the word 'warrior' is probably inappropriate because, judging by his profile picture, wanna-be wide boy Alfie Perkins would struggle to punch his way out of a tissue paper bag).

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Cyberspace, and social media sites in particular, can be a cesspit of hate, poison and bile. But thankfully there are exceptions, including the excellent Swiss Ramble blog which provides a wonderful insight into football finance. It was there, on a thread about the challenges Villa will face to meet their FFP obligations unless promotion is achieved this term, where the author highlighted, maybe inadvertently, one of the problems with the regulations.

"Failing a lucrative player sale," the author wrote on his Twitter feed, "(Christian) Purslow, who once infamously described himself as the 'Fernando Torres of finance', would indeed have to demonstrate some fancy footwork to find a suitable loophole."

There is, quite simply, not enough pressure to comply. Like apologists for tax avoiders, too many followers of clubs who find a way around the legislation hail those responsible for their savviness and intelligence rather than calling them out for wrecking the integrity of the competition.

It was a subject Chris Wilder confronted earlier this week when, speaking ahead of the win over Brentford, he claimed some of Sheffield United's Championship rivals deliberately broke the rules governing spending to give themselves an unfair advantage.

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Jack Grealish was attacked on the pitch last weekend: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Wilder, the United manager, has form in this particular area. Last year, he called for changes to the parachute payment system, requiring those in receipt of a Premier League handout to use them to protect and safeguard jobs rather than as transfer fund top-ups.

It should therefore be celebrated that the competition's three leading clubs so far this term - leaders Norwich City, United and Leeds, who Wilder's side face at Elland Road tomorrow - have not benefited from one of these grants. The state of play at the summit of the division serves to remind there is no substitute for intelligent coaching, coherent recruitment strategies and that those capable of devising them should be cherished by their employers.

Twelve years ago, when they were relegated from the top-flight, United were also guilty of succumbing to temptation and splurging huge sums of money on an array of household names. Some, including James Beattie, worked out. The majority didn't and the money was effectively wasted. Indeed, as well as serving to remind that just because you sign a player from a PL club doesn't necessarily mean you acquire a PL player, it is possible to mount an argument those mistakes contributed to their eventual slide into the third tier.

Investment is always required to fulfil ambitions. Speculation, within sensible parameters, should be actively encouraged.

But the governing bodies should use the examples being set in Norfolk, West and South Yorkshire as an opportunity to press the reset button. Demand those who are relegated, (and all clubs like to portray themselves as community institutions), use parachute payments to protect those who work in their ticket offices, lottery departments and outreach sections. Rather than splurging the cash on players and agents while handing people living on modest wages by comparison their P45's.