Sheffield United: Why Chris Wilder’s contacts book could prove a potent weapon in the Premier League
Two seasons ago, as Sheffield United prepared for their long awaited return to the Championship, a member of Chris Wilder's backroom staff was busy attending a series of supposedly clandestine meetings with officials from Premier League clubs.
The point of the exercise was to outline the benefits of a Bramall Lane education. Position it as a prestigious finishing school for some of the top-flight's brightest young professionals.
United have since reaped the benefits of those networking sessions, with Dean Henderson and Kieran Dowell both proving a success after joining on loan. But, after winning promotion from the Championship last term, the best could yet be to come.
With only 16 senior players at his disposal following the publication of United's retained and released list, Wilder is probably set for a busier transfer window than either he or his paymasters have suggested ahead of the August deadline. And, nine members short of the 25 man limit, it appears likely that some of the new arrivals are likely to be acquired on a temporary basis as United's coaching staff attempt to get more bang for their buck.
Certainly, before United's return to elite level football was confirmed last month, Wilder spoke proudly about they have cultivated contacts with some of the most influential names in the domestic game.
"We've got great relationships with a number of the big guns, if you like, and know the people there," he said. "I think they respect how we go about things, how we try and work with players and what this club has got to offer. That's something we're glad to have."
Although protocol prevented Wilder from elaborating further, Manchester United and Chelsea are two of United's most trusted partners in the loan market. Nick Cox, who now overseas Old Trafford's youth programme, previously worked in South Yorkshire and is thought to have helped pave the way for first Joe Riley and then Henderson to join United on a temporary basis. Talks aimed at renewing the latter's agreement ahead of the new campaign are already underway.
Although Jamal Blackman is the only player to move from Stamford Bridge to United in recent seasons, Wilder is understood to enjoy a direct line to the Londoners' development department. Indeed, before his career blossomed amid interest from Bayern Munich, United are believed to have asked if Maurizio Sarri's employers were minded to loan out Callum Hudson-Odoi only to be informed the teenager would either be staying put or placed with another Premier League outfit.
Reaching the top-flight will potentially grant United access to the next strata of talent which has progressed through the country's highest profile academies. As well as providing opportunities for those within their own to flourish, United are continuing to chart the progress of players looking to prove themselves at the highest level after impressing in the second tier. Henderson's rise to the brink of a full England call-up after impressing with Wilder's team will serve to make them an even more attractive proposition.
"We're always keeping tabs on what's happening out there," Wilder said recently. "It's an on-going process and people know that, if their players do come here, that they're going to be treated properly and looked after well."
With achieving Premier League status thought to be worth around £170m - a significant chunk of that, however, can be wiped out at the stroke of a pen thanks to increased wages and other associated costs - United's focus will be on completing permanent deals.
"We want to bring in assets for the club," Wilder said. "That's something we've been successful, I think, at doing."