Sheffield United: The difficult but important balancing act The Blades must complete next season

He did his bit, nodding in the all the right places and turning up, suited and booted, for the post-show photocall.

By James Shield
Friday, 28th June 2019, 3:36 pm
Updated Friday, 28th June 2019, 7:55 pm
Chris Wilder (second right) and Kevin McCabe (far right) at the USG annoucement: Scott Merrylees
Chris Wilder (second right) and Kevin McCabe (far right) at the USG annoucement: Scott Merrylees

But at this time of year, with a Premier League campaign looming large on the horizon, Chris Wilder's mind was focused on football rather than facts and figures.

Still, after listening to Bramall Lane's hierarchy espouse the virtues of their new shirt sponsors, the Sheffield United manager acknowledged why it is imperative others keep their eyes fixed firmly on the balance sheet.

"Indirectly, for us to seal this deal from a club's point of view, is testament to what has happened over the past three years," he said. "It shows what the Premier League brings and how many people watch it.

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Sheffield United are heading for the top-flight: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"It is a great deal for the football club and puts the club in a better position, which hopefully puts me in a better position."

Although the narrative surrounding United's rise under Wilder has been a story of talented upstarts beating the financial odds, the 51-year-old, together with many directors, acknowledge they must begin rubbing shoulders with big corporate businesses to establish themselves as a top-flight club. It will be a delicate balancing act, as Wilder attempts to keep his players grounded whilst reaching for the stars. But overcoming that challenge could hold the key to United's survival prospects.

With the average weekly wage in the competition now above £50,000 a week, it is vital Wilder's employers exploit the commercial opportunities last term's promotion will bring. After all, given the absence of a billionaire benefactor on the board, United must rely on advertising and partnerships, such as the one they unveiled on Monday with Union Standard Group, to supplement the income they receive in broadcasting and solidarity payments.

Although teams have prospered in the past by cherry-picking talent from lower divisions - AFC Bournemouth and Burnley being the two most notable examples - events at the Vitality Stadium, where United will begin the new campaign on August 10, and Turf Moore have shown sellers still demand top dollar when they enter into negotiations with PL clubs. Matej Vydra and Ben Gibson cost a combined total of £26m after moving to the North-West 12 last summer while United demanded over £10m for David Brooks -who had made only 13 senior starts at the time - before allowing him to join Bournemouth. Although that fee now appears to be a bargain, there was precious little dissent at the time.

Sheffield United want to attract more big businesses to Bramall Lane

"Re-achieving promotion back to the Premier League means everything," Kevin McCabe, United's co-owner, told the audience when the USG deal was announced. "Football underpins Sheffield more than most cities. It's a bigger football city than Leeds, up the road. We've got two clubs."

"I think for us and the club, it is about learning what we have now got in Premier League football to make even more from corporate sponsorships, which are principally for international rather than national (companies), (although) not in all cases," he added.

"It is a learning curve – we have got to get our skates on. We must not lose the opportunity as it comes because we are in one league. So lets get five or six more deals like this one and you have got a lot more money for players."

With United's preparations for the new campaign now beginning in earnest - their squad jets-off to Portugal early next month or a friendly against Real Betis - Wilder's attention has now switched back to the transfer market. Two centre-forwards, an attacking midfielder and another wing-back are United's priorities, together with arranging the return of Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson on loan. Henderson, the England under-21 international, was a key figure in United's climb out of the second tier and has expressed a desire to spend next season in South Yorkshire. Wilder is also thought to be investigating the possibility of recruiting another centre-half to guard against injuries or suspensions forcing United to rip-up their 3-5-2 system next term.