Sheffield United: New faces - and some old ones - arrive at Bramall Lane following ownership verdict

Less than 24 hours after Mr Justice Fancourt signalled the start of a new era at Bramall Lane, potentially bringing to an end Kevin McCabe's dynasty in the boardroom, visitors to Sheffield United's stadium began to notice that changes were afoot.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 19:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 22:19 pm
Kevin McCabe © BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Representatives of HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is poised to seize control of the Premier League club following a protracted battle between its two co-owners, ensured they were a visible presence. Staff members are understood to have been summoned to a series of meetings designed to outline their plans and ensure a smooth - or as smooth as possible - transfer of power. After around two decades of relative stability behind the scenes, even the slightest alteration to how United are governed is bound to create shockwaves behind the scenes.

Most members of the delegation, which appeared in South Yorkshire soon after the judge's decision at the High Court was announced, were already familiar figures around the ground. One, Saad Allazeez, has previously served as a director of United's parent company Blades Leisure Limited. He holds the same position with Sheffield United Women now. But others, as Prince Abdullah began ensuring his fingerprints are all over the day to day operations, are likely to be less recognisable. As the 54-year-old began putting some meat on the bones of his corporate strategy, it emerged his son-in-law Musaad bin Khalid bin Musaad bin Abdulrahman Al Saud will be moving to the city to become United's new chairman. Prince Abdullah's daughter, Princess Latifa, is joining her husband. Both are set to attend all first team games.

As the scene was unfolding in South Yorkshire, McCabe, who could yet choose to appeal Monday's verdict which demands he sells his stake in United for £5m, was touring the radio and television studios reiterating his position. Yes, he insisted, he has the "energy" to try and overturn to outcome of June's hearing in London. No, McCabe revealed, he has not yet been forced to hand over his shares.

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But the most interesting admission he made, one which provided a fascinating insight into the relationship between two men who have been at the helm of United since 2013, was that he met Prince Abdullah as late as last week to try and thrash out a compromise before this week's announcement. The meeting took place in Paris, where the Saudi Arabian is known to enjoy spending time when he is not in Riyadh or Beverley Hills, where he also owns a home. Chris Wilder, the United manager, has discussed football affairs with him there on several occasions; once breaking off a family holiday to make a whistle-stop journey back to Europe before returning to North America.

Although Prince Abdullah and McCabe failed to broker an agreement, it reflects well on both that they even tried.

Wilder is scheduled to face the media for the first time since Mr Justice Fancourt published his findings on Thursday, when United hold their pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday's visit to Everton. A comment by McCabe during one interview has guaranteed both that - and a fan's forum later in the evening - will be dominated by questions about whether or not he wants to remain in position. Has he got, as it was suggested, some serious" thinking to do? Wilder is adept at handling difficult questions. Much more savvy, in PR terms, than his reputation for plain-speaking might suggest. But Thursday's events are now likely to prove frustrating and uncomfortable experiences for even a man of even his considerable talents. The query will be put, albeit in a variety of different ways, again and again and again.

Predictably, Prince Abdullah quickly moved to allay fears about his relationship with a "great coach" who has twice delivered promotion in only three seasons. The subject of Jan van Winckel, who presence has often been cited as a source of disgruntlement in the bootroom, was also approached. The Belgian, a long-standing confidant of Prince Abdullah on footballing matters, first arrived at United in December 2017. Armed with a UEFA Pro License, a post-graduate degree in sports science and business economy and a CV detailing spells with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and Olympique de Marseille, where he served as Marcelo Bielsa's assistant, van Winckel's profile at United is now expected to rise. But Wilder has been told he will retain the final say on recruitment and the like. Van Winckel, with his knowledge and contacts book, could prove an invaluable asset. But his terms of reference, and sphere of influence, will decide how that particular situation plays out.

Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"He (van Winckel) has one of the best eyes for talent," Prince Abdullah said. "He told me to buy Yaya Toure when he was (playing) in Belgium. I will use him but Chris is the face of the club and his decisions about the first team are the decisions we will go with."

That, whether he welcomes it or not, is set to be something else Wilder must address during Thursday's audience with journalists. Before hopefully being allowed to focus on the trip to Merseyside.

Waiting quietly in the background, watching the battle for hearts and minds on the terraces unfold, is a group of North American investors called ALK Capital who were set, until Mr Justice Fancourt's intervention, to purchase United from McCabe. Prince Abdullah insisted he has no intention of selling unless he can no longer provide financial support. But ALK, whose members are well-known figures in US sporting circles, retain their interest in coming on board in some capacity and will relay it through private back channels.

"In business you never say never," Prince Abdullah said. "But I can tell you I have no intention of selling the club."

Prince Abdullah and Kevin McCabe met in Paris
It has been another eventful 24 hours at Bramall Lane: Tim Goode/PA Wire.
HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud © BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY