Sheffield United: Chris Wilder and Stephen Bettis outline transfer strategy ahead of Premier League return
It was no surprise, after arriving for a briefing about Chris Wilder's transfer strategy, to discover Stephen Bettis sat alongside him at Bramall Lane’s boardroom table.
Bettis, Sheffield United’s chief executive and one of Wilder's closest confidants, has a crucial role to play helping the 51-year-old ensure his squad is properly prepared for the Premier League next season and also beyond.
Particularly, Wilder acknowledged during this afternoon’s meeting, given the scale of the challenge now facing United after their return to the top-flight.
"The whole strategy is key," he said, admitting United are still in "the very early stages" of identifying potential acquisitions. "I like to think we're all about people and if you talk about relationships, between us as staff and offices and the board, they are so important. When those break down, it usually brings trouble. Fortunately our one is very strong."
It spoke volumes that two weeks ago, when it became apparent United were on the verge of being promoted from the Championship, Wilder described Bettis' presence as the "key" to him signing a new long-term contract. Twelve months earlier, he appeared destined to leave the club he has supported since childhood after growing disillusioned by its politics. But after meeting with co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose battle for sole control reached the High Court this week, he put pen to paper after receiving assurances Bettis would be returning to the position he had previously occupied before leaving to explore business opportunities abroad. The rest, as they say, is history.
"I can honestly say the two owners have done their utmost to ensure the smooth running of the football club," Bettis said. "It's not been a problem for me.
"The biggest budget is always the one around the first team and it's important to get that right. We've done some good bits of business in the past and we've created assets for the club who can play in the Premier League."
United, who this evening published a retained and released list confirming Paul Coutts' departure, have developed a reputation under Wilder of identifying previously unfulfilled potential and then harnessing it. Although the numbers have changed - "It is safe to say our transfer record will be broken this year as we have ambition" - that policy is set to continue during the forthcoming window.
"We want to invest in young players," Wilder continued. "Young players who can step up to this level and fit in with the core of the group who have got us here."
The process of identifying targets began before last weekend's visit to Stoke City which, after ending all-square, saw United finish second in the table. Despite admitting "it's still early stages yet", Wilder said the £4m fee paid to acquire John Egan's services from Brentford last summer will be surpassed.
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"We've got to be mindful but we've got a desire to do well," he said. "I take inspiration from what the likes of Bournemouth and Burnley have done. They've built properly and we like to think we can do that, because we're teachers too."
One of the biggest and, given the emphasis he places on character, toughest tasks confronting Wilder is preserving the culture United have fostered behind the scenes since his arrival in 2016. Back then, before leading them out of League One at the first attempt, he talked about "bringing the power back to us" from players and agents. Reflecting on their second promotion in three seasons, it was a theme Wilder was keen to reprise again.
"We don't want to be all about the cheque book," he said. "That's not the type of environment we want to create.
"We take pride in our job and we also, as strange as it might sound, take pride in saying 'no' to people because we don't want that type of culture where it's about spending this or spending that all the time."
“We get along, Steve and I, but there’s times when he’s said ‘no’ to me as well,” Wilder added. “And I’m fine with that. Our relationship is based on being able to talk like that, properly.”
Like Bettis, who outlined plans to redevelop United's Steelphalt Academy training complex, Wilder believes it is possible to strike a balance between ambition and prudence.
"If you look at football, so many clubs get themselves in trouble," he said. "So you have to be dligent and have a sensible approach."
"Look at what's happened to Bolton (Wanderers) today," Wilder added, referencing their slide to the verge of administration. "That's a reminder about what can go wrong if you don't do it properly."