Regardless of how the day unfolds, whether they sign a player or receive hostile approaches from rival clubs, Sheffield United are prepared for every eventuality, Nigel Adkins believes.
“You have to be ready to make quick decisions, have a clear plan of attack and work out what you can and can’t do,” he said. “You need to know ‘if this happens, we’ll do this’ and ‘ if that happens, we’ll do that’. Doing the groundwork is so, so important.”
Adkins, the United manager, has spent the past eight weeks doing his groundwork ahead of this evening’s transfer deadline. Although activity at Bramall Lane has so far focused on shedding rather than recruiting players following a review of the squad they inherited in June, the 50-year-old and his coaching staff hope to make “a couple” of select acquisitions themselves before the window closes at 11pm.
“We know all the players who are out there,” Adkins continued. “We’ve done lots of research and always do. We’ve identified the players we want. Then, we go down the line of watching them ‘x’ amount of times, working out what they are worth, can we get them and things like that. If it can’t happen, then we move on to the next targets.”
Lee Turnbull, the former Middlesbrough, Doncaster Rovers and Chesterfield centre-forward, was handed the task of helping compile United’s shopping list when he was appointed their head of recruitment and scouting seven months ago. The position had remained vacant following the departure earlier that summer of Adkins’ predecessor, Nigel Clough, whose brother, Simon, had previously held the role.
Adkins, speaking before last week’s League One fixture against Blackpool, emphasised the importance of devising a coherent transfer strategy after appearing to suggest mistakes had been made by his employers in the not so distant past.
United acquired seven players on the eve of the 2014/15 campaign but only one, Chris Basham, remains with the club or is in first-team contention.
Although Adkins’ employers have faced criticism for their lack of activity so far, he said: “You also have to be strong enough to say ‘no’. If not, then further down the line, you end up with too many players and everything gets clogged up.
“I’d rather have a smaller group with quality and spirit. It’s also important not to lose sight of the fact you should be working to make the group you’ve got better too. If you are having to bring in five or six in one go then it’s a sign that, probably, something has gone drastically wrong.”
United’s pruning exercise has also involved releasing several members of their under-21 squad as Adkins, following consultations with key figures at the Steelphalt Academy, attempts to create “a pathway” through the ranks for promising youth-team players.
Although the decision has proved controversial in some quarters, particularly when Otis Khan was handed an 18th-month contract by neighbours Barnsley, Adkins has insisted it was a “right and proper” thing to do.
“You’ve got to factor in the people who are coming through behind,” he said. “You have to make sure there’s a pathway through for them too, particularly if they have been identified as first-team players of the future.
“It’s also about doing the right thing by the players themselves too. If we think there are lads who aren’t going to be required here, for various different reasons, then we want to give them every opportunity of making a career somewhere else. They can still train with us but, yes, we allow them to go on trial and see if they can get fixed up. By doing that, they have the opportunity to make an impression before the rush starts.”
Of course, although Adkins has made it plain he will pursue only long-standing and well-researched targets, he acknowledged United will face temptation to adopt a more ad-hoc approach.
“When you are getting cold calls, as it were, from agents then that’s not the best way to do it,” he said. “I don’t find it difficult to say ‘no.’ There has to be an evolution. Not just planning for one window but planning for two, three and four. Then, there’s a natural evolution of contracts, different ages and also a pathway through.”
“There’s a hell of a lot that goes into a deal,” Adkins added. “There’s the technology to be sent off by a certain time and you might find an agent is dragging a deal to try and see what might materialise. You need to avoid all of that and stay strong in your mind.”
When the dust settles on an other transfer window tomorrow morning, Adkins will turn his attention towards the remaining 18 games of United’s season before conducting an internal review of the campaign as a whole.
“I always do a debrief at the end of a season looking at how the team’s performed, the training we’ve done, the injuries we’ve had, a million different factors,” he said. “And one of the things I’ve always identified is how time-consuming December is. You are building towards January so there are phone calls to make and recruitments plans to make. But you also have to focus on games too.
“Sometimes, having a director of football can alleviate some of the calls you have to make. But there’s still lots to take on board. You have to be physically right and mentally sharp. That way, you make the right choices going forward.”