Sheffield United: Prince Abdullah hits all the right notes in first press conference since winning control of Blades following bitter High Court battle
As the invited journalists and broadcasters set up cameras and microphones and watched the clock tick down towards 2pm, a strange feeling seemed to hang in the air.
Uncertainty. Unpredictability. Even, as the post Kevin McCabe era at Sheffield United began with a press conference with new sole owner Prince Abdullah, a small sense of unease. Within an hour, it had vanished. A man who had been accused, in some quarters, of not caring about the Blades, spoke about owning it with a sense of passion that the man sitting immediately to his right, manager and boyhood Blade Chris Wilder, would have been proud of.Nothing, apart from one question about his country's human rights record, was off table for the Prince as he faced the media for the first time since winning Monday's High Court battle. He welcomed questions that might ordinarily have United's media staff sweating a little, including the club's loan from the bin Laden family which emerged during the High Court trial.He was engaging, bright, enthusiastic. He laughed at yet another question about his love of fantasy football. He joshed with Wilder about qualifying for the Champions League and then winning the Premier League title. He joked about his wife and daughter spending his money, before sensibly retracting that a while later.But there was also an acceptance that this was serious stuff. By his own admission Prince Abdullah is joining a very select group; as the owner of a Premier League club - a division he readily admitted was his passion. No, he conceded, he was not born a Sheffield United fan. He didn't grow up in Saudi dreaming of pulling on the red and white stripes and watching some of the Bramall Lane greats of yesteryear. But he has, he says, fallen in love with the Blades; "the colours, the fans, the song". It was a nice soundbite, delivered convincingly. There were many nice moments like that. But, as he also acknowledged, talk is cheap and he has to back it up.One of the more intriguing revelations since Monday's verdict, and since both Prince Abdullah and McCabe have done the media rounds, was the Prince's, that he personally intervened to improve Wilder's budget this summer and, after McCabe baulked, personally intervened to get the signing of Oli McBurnie over the line. McCabe has not yet responded to those claims, but they certainly appear the actions of a man determined to make the most of United's Premier League status.The Prince, after all, has many millions of reasons to do so. Owning the club in the Championship, solely, would have left him staring at a £12m deficit, before he even considered signing any players. The Premier League is a different world altogether; offering opportunity, status and riches almost untold.Some of that will be tapped into in the coming weeks and months, with the commercial side of United's operation ramping up - personally overseen by the Prince's son-in-law Prince Musa'ad, who will be installed as club chairman and attend every game with the Prince's daughter.Expect many more sponsorship deals to emerge from that part of the world, following the lead of a car rental company whose logo now adorns the club's training kit. Prince Abdullah also hinted at more changes of Bramall Lane, of evolution rather than revolution; improving the fan experience seems a priority, and benefits to the wider city could be seen if he follows through on a suggestion that the hotel next to the stadium could be made a five-star one.But in terms of profile, the Prince is expected to continue to remain very much behind-the-scenes. Dressed casually in a black hoodie, he spoke animatedly about his matchday ritual of watching games, usually at his house in Los Angeles. "I like to watch games on mute because I can't deal with commentators talking bad about my team... if we win, I'll watch it again with the sound on. I swear a lot!"He will have re-watched many games over the last three years, since Wilder succeeded Nigel Adkins in 2015. Two promotions in that time sees United travel to Everton this weekend, although the Prince is happy to let Wilder continue to the face of the Blades.So far, so good. The charm offensive continues tonight when the Prince and Co. face supporters at a fans' forum at Bramall Lane. Those around the Prince say he has a thick skin, and it may well be tested. If he deals with it with an ounce of the warmth and wisdom he showed with the local and national media, he’ll be fine.
For almost two years of litigation, so much mud has been slung; so much has been said. The judgement of Monday’s decision alone amounts to hundreds of pages. Now, though, is the time to back up all the talk since; by the Prince’s own admission, actions speak far louder than any words ever could.