Sheffield United: Chris Wilder breaks his silence on ownership battle ahead of Southampton clash
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has spoken for the first time about the battle for control of Bramall Lane since a judge confirmed he will announce the winner of the dispute between Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the High Court on Monday.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's fixture against Southampton, Wilder praised both his staff and the Premier League club's co-owners for refusing to allow events off-the pitch to cause a distraction on it. But in a pointed reference to suggestions the losing party will immediately contest Mr Justice Fancourt's verdict, the 51-year-old warned another prolonged period of uncertainty could threaten the progress his team has made in recent months.
"I think everybody just wants it to be over," Wilder said. "It's not an excuse, though. When I've asked to be backed, I have been. I've pushed. And they (McCabe and Prince Abdullah) have supported me in their ways. But for a club to move forward, it needs to be united on the pitch and off it. It will be settled on Monday."
Wilder's remarks on the possibility of an appeal marked his only deviation from the diplomatic path he trod during a pre-match press conference ostensibly designed to preview the meeting with Ralph Hasenhüttl's side. Indeed, after commending the footballing department for helping to orchestrate last season's promotion from the Championship, he expressed sympathy for the position McCabe and Prince Abdullah have found themselves in since the breakdown in their business relationship.
The row was sparked when McCabe, who sold half of United's parent company to the Saudi Arabian in 2013, launched a bid to take back the remaining 50 per cent midway through the 2017/18 season. Prince Abdullah responded in kind, albeit after performing a corporate manoeuvre which his representatives argued negated a requirement to immediately purchase United's property interests. This prompted Sheffield United Limited, the company McCabe uses to control his shareholding in Blades Leisure Limited, to lodge a counter-claim. With the two unable to resolve their differences, the row saw them head to the High Court earlier this summer.
If Mr Justice Fancourt finds in McCabe's favour, the Scarborough based businessman is scheduled to sell United to a group of North American investors previously involved with MLS franchise Real Salt Lake City. Although Prince Abdullah's future plans are less clear, he can also expect to receive a number of offers and approaches. Despite purchasing his stake for a nominal sum, Prince Abdullah assumed a series of financial obligations after arriving in South Yorkshire.
Having just finished mid-table in League One when he was appointed three years ago, United enter their latest top-flight fixture ranked 10th in the table after taking five points from their opening four outings.
"I've got to say, I think the staff from a football point of view have coped very well," Wilder said. "From the owners' point of view, I've been consistent in my outlook, they will have wanted the progression on the pitch. But six years ago, they wouldn't have envisaged it being this way, in terms of it going to the High Court."
"I'm an employee of the football club," Wilder added. "Obviously, it's not been ideal. But there will be a statement on Monday and then I'll be asked about it again on Thursday."