“A good manager is both a screenwriter and director,” Arrigo Sacchi once said. “The team has to reflect him.”
The trouble is, as even the legendary Italian would agree, most folk in his profession these days don’t get time to formulate a script. Let alone put their ideas into practise.
Nigel Clough, who became the latest person tasked with leading Sheffield United back into the Championship following his appointment 17 months ago, makes no secret of his contempt for many aspects of the modern game. Impatience and a tendency to overcomplicate being the most notable. Sport, when it takes place for real rather than on computers, is never an exact science.
If it were then United, who were nevertheless active during last summer’s transfer window, would have finished reshaping their squad long before this year’s January sales. But the fact is, despite the best efforts of coaching staff and directors alike, they didn’t. Injuries to key members of the squad, including Stefan Scougall, James Wallace and Michael Higdon, only served to highlight where it’s vulnerabilities lay.
However, there are signs with new arrivals such as Steven Davies, Matt Done and Jason Holt complimenting time-served names, that United are about to realise their potential. Which, with a play-off campaign possibly looming on the horizon, could prove timely.
They enter tomorrow’s game against Crewe Alexandra hoping to record a hat-trick of wins at home. Tuesday evening’s victory over Scunthorpe, which came less than a fortnight after the two clubs had drawn 1-1 at Glanford Park, illustrated how fifth-placed United are evolving. Reminiscent of the performances produced during the closing stages of the previous campaign, it also revealed how Clough wants them to go about their work.
Scoring four goals without reply was not a sign he has suddenly adopted an attacking tactical blueprint. Simply that confidence is coming back.
With six members of the starting eleven which faced Port Vale 72 hours earlier joining within the past two months, United remain a work in progress.
Which could give them a distinct advantage in the race for League One’s third promotion slot.
Clough’s side, with Scougall, Wallace and Terry Kennedy close to full fitness, can improve. Others, Swindon Town and MK Dons included, possibly not.