Dear Mr McCabe and Prince Abdullah,
I must, first of all, congratulate you both, and everyone connected with Sheffield United, for an excellent and memorable first season back in the Championship after six seasons languishing in League One. On paper, a tenth-placed finish in the second tier, after being top of the table in November, may seem perhaps unspectacular and although the league table rarely lies, in this case it doesn’t tell the full story either.
This has been a whirlwind of a season; beating sides like Leeds United (twice), title winners Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday, so spectacularly and so emphatically, in their own back yard.
The fact that United travelled all the way down to Bristol for the last match of the season with nothing to play for was a shame. The fact that they did so with almost 2,000 fans in tow, essentially for a dead rubber, was a credit. The fact that those supporters hailed their players at the end of the game like heroes spoke volumes about the re-established connection between club and fans.
Now, however, I and many Blades fans in Sheffield and all across the world fear that that progress may soon be halted. Chris Wilder, the driving force behind last season’s historic season and further progress this, is frustrated and, as I am sure you will both be aware, has voiced those frustrations in recent weeks, although he was reluctant to do so in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s victory at Bristol City.
He, I and the vast majority of United fans recognise the legal issues at stake here, as your disagreements over who should gain ultimate control of this great club continue. Your business acumen, demonstrated by your success in the fields of property and paper respectively, far outweighs mine. Please do not interpret this open letter as a humble, local journalist telling you how to conduct your business. It isn’t. It is, however, a plea.
It isn’t a plea for either of you to find £25m down the back of your sofas or jeapordise the future of this proud club by risking its financial future. It’s much simpler than that... communicate with the manager.
Although it has been interpreted as such by some - and as much as every manager in the footballing world would like a few more quid to spend in the transfer market - I don’t think Chris’ impassioned appeal, first issued after the Preston defeat which finally ended United’s play-off chances this season, was simply about money.
Of course, United’s chances of breaking into the top six and earning a ticket for the Premier League lottery would be increased if Chris was armed with a bigger warchest.
The manager may have proved that chequebooks aren’t everything in modern-day football but a look at the league table suggests they aren’t inconsequential, either; Wolves are an anomaly after spending top-flight money to ensure they would be playing there next season and despite Neil Warnock’s protestations that he has one of the lowest budgets in the Championship, he did spend £6m in January to bring Gary Madine to Cardiff.
From third to sixth, Fulham had the clout to bring Aleksandar Mitrović in on loan in January - as well as resist £10m bids for Tom Cairney - while Aston Villa pay John Terry around £60,000 - or a Clayton Donaldson - per week. Middlesbrough’s £40m summer spree in an attempt to ‘smash the league’ saw them finish fifth - and lose to United - while Derby just about hung on to sixth largely thanks to the 21 league goals of Matěj Vydra, who cost them £8m.
As I say, no manager in world football would turn down extra money to spend if it was offered. But this isn’t Chris throwing his toys out of the pram in pursuit of a few bob more, as we say in the Steel City; instead, what he wants is clarity. Direction. Dialogue.
When Chris sat down to face the Press before the Bristol City game and admitted that no, he still had not had contact with either of you, I was astounded. Although the transfer window doesn’t re-open until later this month, clubs are already putting deals in place and United should be building on a positive start to life back in the second tier. Instead, I fear they may be left behind.
That is before anyone begins to consider the alternative. Yes, Chris is a Blade - fans sing about him being one of their own, and just 30 seconds in his company leaves anyone in little doubt that he is - and a fiercely loyal man, but that loyalty is not indefinite and ever since he took his first steps in management, in the Meadowhall Sunday League with Bradway, Chris has not settled for second best.
Progress is key and when an opportunity to progress has arisen - even when it meant an apparent backward step, like leaving promotion-chasing Oxford to take over relegation-threatened Northampton - he has taken it. United is Chris’ club but if the day does one day arrive when he has a decision to make, head will rule heart rather than the other way around.
Then, consider the players. Chris plucked the likes of Jack O’Connell and John Fleck from Brentford’s reserves and League One Coventry City respectively, and they are not only fans’ favourites but established Championship performers.
Both, in their mid twenties, could be club legends by the time they retire. But both could also, very likely, cut it in the Premier League, too, as could David Brooks and more than a handful of other Bramall Lane stars.
All will surely want to know the direction Sheffield United is travelling in; if not now, then before long.
Mr McCabe and Prince Abdullah, if you read any part of this open letter please consider that word; direction. Both of you have been involved with Sheffield United in the footballing abyss of League One and, as joint owners, will have felt the financial consequences every bit as much as any fan felt the emotional ones as chance after chance of promotion went begging, and manager after manager paid the price with their job.
Please remember the scenes of last season, the way Chris and the players reconnected a fractured club. Fans were proud to support Sheffield United again. They have travelled in their thousands all over the country, then and now, knowing that if the result hasn’t gone their way, the effort will have been there. And if not, Chris won’t hide. He kicks every ball, feels every defeat in the pit of his stomach. He is, after all, one of them.
Which is why I’m not alone in being concerned that he may walk away. You both obviously believe that you are the right man to lead Sheffield United into the future and, understandably, have refrained from making any public statements about the ongoing legal discussions.
But in private, Chris needs to know his budget for the new season, for one, so he and his staff can begin plans to progress. He needs to know the direction the club is to go in, what the next step in the club’s progression is and how, and when, he can help take them there. In your message to fans after the League One title was secured last season, I remember select messages including: "I hope this is only the start... Premier League is where we want to be and we'll do everything we can to be there... Chris recruited well and he's got them going and who knows what will happen next... we have the right coach... we are proud of the fans and we owe you, to do all we can to make you always proud."
Of course, actions speak louder than words. But words would be a welcome start. In good time, the fans have the right to know what is going on too - any football club, after all, belongs to its supporters as much as any custodian - but right now, there is only one Blade who needs your attention.