Opinion: 'This club is bigger than everyone. For the sake of Sheffield United, please remember to put it first'
There are always three sides to every story. Your side, the other side and then the bit in the middle, otherwise known as ‘The Truth’.
After HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud provided his version of events surrounding Chris Wilder’s departure during an incendiary interview on Thursday morning, the debate about whether Sheffield United’s owner or former manager was to blame for the fall-out has become increasingly polarized.
If the two main protagonists in what is becoming a pretty messy saga can’t agree on anything, other than the fact their relationship was fractured beyond repair, then what hope for supporters following the drama from afar? Most will take the mud-slinging, albeit mud-slinging disguised as erudite comment, for exactly what it is. But others, particularly those peddling private agendas or looking to boost their comments on social media, are dripping even more poison into the wound. Stalling the healing process.
Although neither the owner’s circle of friends or the one surrounding Wilder will appreciate anyone for saying so, there was fault in both camps. Most of the issues behind this month’s fall-out could have been resolved through tact, diplomacy and communication. Particularly those relating to what Wilder, a little too forcefully he might reflect, described as ‘The Plan’. His non-negotiable and, given it involved no key player sales whatsoever this summer, unrealistic blueprint for bouncing back from relegation.
Instead, some of those involved chose a different path. By refusing to listen, by refusing to accept their pal might be right about some things but wrong about others, they ensured the resentment which had built up between the two men reached intolerable levels.
There is one thing people should be able to concur on, however - The fact none of this, none of it whatsoever, reflects well on United. Premier League clubs are supposed to be slick, professionally run organisations who wash their dirty laundry in private. Not sling a line across their stadium and hang the entire load out to dry. No matter which angle you are looking from, this isn’t a good image to portray. And make no mistake, people are watching. Shrugging their shoulders, shaking their heads and wondering why the type of row other outfits seem able to contain has spilled into the public arena.
After Wilder had outlined his grievances about issues such as transfer and recruitment policy - drawing some dots on a piece of paper and then inviting journalists to join them up before waving goodbye earlier this month - Prince Abdullah was entitled to the same courtesy. The vehicle he chose, rather than the regional media or United’s own in-house channels, was a Zoom call to a reporter from a competition rights-holder. Some of the things the Saudi said, such as the need for United to think smarter and more strategically, made perfect sense. Others raised questions which were neither asked nor answered - including why Wilder’s former assistant Alan Knill, who helped him mastermind two promotions, appears to have been offered a job which does not exist?
Although Prince Abdullah will have found laying out the facts as he sees them a cathartic experience, particularly after witnessing the outpouring of support for Wilder among huge sections of United’s fan base when his exit was announced, one wonders if it would have been more sensible to focus on broad themes rather than going into so much personal detail. Not least when it came to the negotiations with the 53-year-old’s agent about his client’s severance package.
If Prince Abdullah was advised to do so, then he was badly advised. Why? Because it just isn’t the ‘done thing’ in the increasingly corporate world of PL football. And it has almost certainly ensured this is not the last word we hear on the subject either. Which is exactly what United, the institution as a whole, does not need right now as it enters a potentially pivotal era in its history.
The LMA, the organisation which represents Wilder and other members of his profession, are bound to be studying Prince Abdullah’s comments closely and could decide to issue a response. They would be perfectly within their rights to do so. The shame is, another round of ‘he said, she said’ is exactly what United don’t need right now as they attempt to replace one of the most successful managers in their history whilst preparing to return to the Championship following a chaotic season.
Bramall Lane is not the only ground in the country where there is friction behind the scenes. Nor are United the only top-flight club to ever part company with a manager who, through success and force of personality, effectively became the figurehead for a movement. But they are, in recent years at least, the only one which has chosen to put all of the grievances which led to the break-up on public display. It is a bit like choosing to arrange an acrimonious divorce outside Forge Dam cafe on a sunny afternoon rather than in the solicitor’s office.
Some people will always fight Wilder’s corner. Others, including several whose Facebook and Twitter activity has exploded of late, have got Prince Abdullah’s back.
But one thing is bigger than all of them. Sheffield United Football Club. Something many of those seemingly intent on using it as a vehicle to settle scores, fight personal battles and proxy wars, would do well to remember before they cause irreparable damage to its reputation within the game as a whole.