First things first, Sheffield United need to drag themselves out of League One.
Doing that, and then establishing themselves at Championship level, would help the club realise its potential and make it easier to develop and retain home-grown talent like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Steelphalt Academy graduate now impressing for Everton.
But Chris Wilder has already begun performing one of football’s most difficult balancing acts; building a squad capable of achieving both its long-term objectives and short-term aims. New signing Samir Carruthers is a case in point.
“Sometimes, you bring in players to make an impact right away,” Wilder said, “Other times, you bring them in because you think it’s right over a period of time. Samir can make a difference now and also in the future. He’s the right age, he’s got the right qualities and character. He ticked all the boxes for us.”
Wilder’s comments about Carruthers should not be interpreted as a sign that United, who face a difficult match at Southend tomorrow, already believe promotion is assured. Indeed, the manager’s frequent reminders about the danger of complacency or disregarding opponents confirms nothing could be further from the truth. It was a theme he returned to yesterday, warning that Phil Brown’s side, who enter their meeting with United only a point behind sixth-placed Fleetwood and unbeaten in 10 games, would test the visitors “ability” and “attitude.”
But Wilder, who has so far refused to utter the ‘P’ word, is privately convinced the transfer strategy he has devised with assistant Alan Knill and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell is simply common sense thinking. Particularly when, as recent purchases like Carruthers, John Fleck and Simon Moore demonstrate, there are players available in the market who, despite being experienced at a higher level, are equipped to perform in the third tier too. Damiel Lafferty, whose loan from Burnley is set to be turned into a permanent agreement, falls into the same category.
“Simon, I think, has made a difference to us right now,” Wilder continued. “But he’s someone who, going forward, we think can grow with the football club as well. Right now, though, you can see he’s bringing something to the table. He made some important saves when it matters. Mind you, he’s a part of the group.”
That caveat reveals one of Wilder’s most important managerial principles. No individual is more important than the team. Teasing platitudes out of him about Billy Sharp, who travels to Essex having scored five times in four outings, or former Cardiff City goalkeeper Moore has proved remarkably difficult in recent weeks. Lavish praise is instead reserved for younger players or those going through tough periods.
It is something Carruthers, previously of MK Dons, will have to get used to as he enters the next phase of his career.
“His first job will be to get into the team,” Wilder said. “He’s focused on that.”