Sheffield United: Chris Wilder explains how he selects his transfer targets

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and striker Leon Clarke
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and striker Leon Clarke

Gone are the days when word of mouth carried the same weight as statistics or managers signed players on the basis of a hunch.

Chris Wilder, whose expertise in the transfer market has helped transform Sheffield United, is certainly not adverse to the appliance of science. But he still believes there is no substitute for old fashioned intelligence gathering or boots on the ground.

Wilder, revealing coaching staff at Bramall Lane have already begun identifying potential targets ahead of next year's window, made the claim as he provided a degree of insight into the processes United employ before entering the market.

Paul Mitchell, the club's head of recruitment, keeps the exact details a closely guarded secret although Wilder, speaking ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Birmingham City, felt comfortable talking in much broader terms.

Reflecting on how Martin Cranie, the former Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough defender arrived in South Yorkshire last month, he said: "We do our homework. Look at Martin Cranie for example. 

"It's easy to look at how many games he's missed or whatever. But we give an honest opinion. I think as staff we've got a decent reputation in the game and so, when we ask, we get honest opinions back. 

"Okay, there might be occasions when people say 'not for me' but you think there's something there. There's probably one or two lads here, without naming names, who fell into that category. But they're doing brilliant for us here."

Centre-forward Leon Clarke probably falls into that category, having endured a nomadic career before joining United three seasons ago. But with a League One winners' medal already under his belt, combined with the club's golden boot last term, Clarke is now regarded so highly behind the scenes that he wears the captain's armband in Billy Sharp's absence.

United's willingness to peer beyond the hearsay has paid dividends on other occasions too, with Paul Coutts another player who has prospered under Wilder's tutelage. Amid the clamour caused by his imminent return from injury, it is often forgotten that the midfielder, whose absence proved so costly during the previous campaign, was placed up for sale within hours of Wilder's appointment in 2016. The decision, which was quickly reversed only weeks later, barely caused a whimper when first announced.

"We don't have sulkers in the dressing room," Wilder said. "We have the right characters. They don't sit there and think 'I'm not playing.' They don't throw the towel in. The work hard and push to get themselves in. They understand, even if it's not always easy for them, that the most important thing is the group."