James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Thankfully, The Blades have shown there is still a place for loyalty within football

If you peer beneath the surface, scratch off the polished corporate veneer, football can be a very grubby business.

Thursday, 20th June 2019, 7:12 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

So much so that, if you do pick away at its respectable and glossy coating, it would probably take an age to scrape the grime off your fingernails. There is no loyalty. Only self-interest. Not to mention a ruthlessness which would make even Timur, the ancient Uzbek dictator, flinch with shame. Yes, there are a few strange folk with much better morals. But they are the exceptions, not the rule.

Of course to some extent, because of the nature of the competition, it has to be that way. If clubs sense one of their rivals is wounded then, rather than offer them a helping hand, they will swarm overhead like ravenous vultures and prepare to eat them alive. Little wonder, then, so many employ small armies of spin doctors to try and hoodwink the media and, by extension, their own supporters.

There are, however, times when a more principled approach is required. In fact, in some instances it can be positively beneficial. Because the game is still, despite the seemingly endless march of science, essentially about people. Their feelings, eccentricities and foibles.

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Chris Wilder (left) and Alan Knill: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The months after a promotion is one such moment. Particularly when it was achieved against the odds. Sheffield United should therefore be commended for ruling-out wholesale changes to Chris Wilder's squad. With the new Premier League season edging ever closer, the 51-year-old and his staff know they must strengthen to enhance their survival prospects. But sources have told this newspaper that, despite the riches top-flight status brings, Wilder is planning to make only a handful of new signings. By choice. Not, before folk start making mischief, because United's two co-owners can seemingly agree on very little beside the fact the other should not gain sole control.

Fulham are the perfect example of what can happen when a team succumbs to temptation and undergoes a dramatic makeover. By all accounts the £100m spending spree they embarked upon last summer irrevocably damaged the atmosphere in the dressing room. Those responsible for lifting the Londoners out of the Championship can hardly be criticised for feeling hurt. Especially as those parachuted in to take their places performed so superbly, a side supposedly well-equipped to prosper sunk without a trace.

Spirit and camaraderie are the two bedrocks of Wilder's regime. Admittedly by focusing on them, there is a danger of under-estimating the talent within their ranks. But that togetherness probably explains why, unlike Leeds or West Bromwich Albion, they were able to grind-out results when it mattered instead of crumbling under pressure. It is a quality which has served them well in the past and is going to be doubly important now, as they prepare to rub shoulders with financial behemoths such as Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. They can stay-up. But some difficult periods lie ahead.

For this reason, United might be advised to consider re-signing some of the loan players who helped them perform so well last term. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson is already on their wanted list, with an agreement expected to be reached with Manchester United over the coming weeks. But another, surprisingly given the controversy which initially surrounded his arrival, also stands-out as a potentially shrewd acquisition if there is money to spare once their leading targets have been snared.

Sheffield United's squad is a close knit group: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

I'm talking, of course, about Gary Madine, who made no secret of his desire to remain with United before being forced to return to Cardiff City. He might not be the most prolific of strikers. But as a back-up option - his physical attributes could prove invaluable if United, protecting a slender lead, are forced to defend a flurry of set-pieces or corners - the former Sheffield Wednesday marksman deserves considering.

First, though, United must focus their attention on recruiting individuals capable of starting the majority of their games. The fact Wilder and his coaches recognise there are already plenty of those at their disposal illustrates excellent judgement. Not a potentially costly degree of misguided sentiment. Tearing up such a tightly knit group would be, as recent history demonstrates, a huge mistake.

Slavisa Jokanovic lost his job at Fulham last season: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.