SHEFFIELD UNITED: How Blades chief changed our game

Pathfinder: Alex Sabella
Pathfinder: Alex Sabella
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SHEFFIELD UNITED changed the face of the modern game around the globe, a new book claims.

Matthew Bell, fanzine editor fan and Green Un columnist, recalls how the United manager of the late 1970s, Harry Haslam, ignored difficult international relations with Argentina to pioneer the signing of foreign players.

The 1978 World Cup had been one of the most controversial as host nation Argentina had undergone a military coup two years earlier.

But that didn’t get in Haslam’s way - he negotiated first refusal on World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.

Unable to afford them, he ended up brokering the deal that saw the pair move to Tottenham, creating some of the biggest football headlines of the late 70s. But Haslam didn’t leave empty handed. He broke United’s transfer record and brought Alex Sabella from River Plate.

Matthew Bell’s book ‘Viva Sabella!’ also attempts to draw a line under the truth and myths surrounding the then 17-year-old wonder boy Diego Maradona. He said: “Posterity records that United were on the brink of signing Maradona but opted for Sabella instead. It has long been viewed as one of the biggest missed opportunities in footballing history.

“Though Sabella didn’t quite deliver the expected glory, he was held in high regard by fans during his two years at the club. Anyone attending Bramall Lane at that time will remember the excitement of having an Argentinian international in the team.”

The tale traces the path of United’s Argentinian from his early days at River Plate, his time at Bramall Lane and move to Leeds United, his subsequent success as manager of Estudiantes back in his homeland and his eventual appointment as manager of Argentina in 2011.

Bell said: “United took a big gamble in 1978 but, typical of the club, it ended in disaster when they were relegated. But the fact that Sabella is now manager of Argentina and there are so many foreign players in English football emphasises the foresight of United’s plans.”