Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who together with Kevin McCabe co-owns Sheffield United, discusses manager Chris Wilder, plans for the January transfer window and the season so far ahead of tonight’s game against Leeds United at Elland Road. James Shield, The Star’s United correspondent, poses the questions.
JS: Will money be available during the transfer window?
PA: I own the club 50/50 so it can’t be only my say. But I think as we stand right now we have a realistic chance of promotion and so I think we should. We want to have quality, though, not quantity. I would rather have two players who make a difference instead of four who are like what we have. I think the fans should know that not me or Kevin have put any pound into our pockets. We have put money into the club every year. This year we might break even but only because of the (Kyle) Walker and (Harry) Maguire (sell-on) deals. But we expect another deficit next season. We are break even only if we assume there is no activity in January and I think that is not a correct projection.
JS: Was awarding David Brooks a new contract a statement of intent? Will he be sold in January?
PA: Of course, signing the contract means we don’t want to see him go anywhere. Every email I have send has been ‘David Brooks, David Brooks.’ The deal was planned. If you have good players, you pay them well and you keep them. He is not the only talent we have because he is not starting all the games. If Chris says ‘I want him’, I don’t think we sell him. But you can never say never because if, say, Real Madrid said we give you £50m and Bale and Ronaldo, that’s different (laughs).
JS: Did you speak with David?
PA: David Brooks, every time I watch him, I get excited. First, he’s a good kid. I met him in Spain. I like his personality, you feel like he is your son or your younger brother and I hope he doesn’t change. But I bet he will always be the same guy. We want to keep him. If we go to the Premier League, the more we grow, the more we players want to stay. Some players who have gone, would have helped us. Maguire is one. But it is hard when you are in League One.
JS: His performance against Sheffield Wednesday must have made you more determined to get the deal done? And how crucial is reaching the Premier League to keeping him?
PA: I watched the Sheffield Wednesday game from Los Angeles at 5am in the morning. Football has lost some of the joy, but look at the football in that derby. And when you see Brooks play, it is worth the price of admission. I would pay, even if I wasn’t a Sheffield United fan, to watch him play. What I like is that he plays fun football but football that is good for the team. He doesn’t just think about himself. If he gets a great offer and we are in the Championship for two or three years, how can we be sure we will get the same quality? Because there are not many David Brooks out there. So that is another reason why we need good international scouting. But I see him as part of the core of the team we want to build.
JS: A boardroom reshuffle was announced recently. Explain the thinking behind these changes?
PA: The changes the McCabe’s made, you have you ask them of course. For me, when I had to resign (from the club), I wanted to come back and be more involved, Jim (Phipps) is a very dear friend but doesn’t work for me any more, he is a consultant. Yousef (Giansiracusa) is my personal lawyer but he is a dear friend. Although I am a football guy, from my experience with Al-Hilal, you have to bring professionals. You may enjoy football, you may like football, you discuss things with the coach and technical people but, at the end of the day, you can’t be the football guy. Technical decisions have to be left to the technical people.
JS: But, from your perspective, it signals you want to be more involved in the day to day running of the club.
PA: When I bought into the club, I don’t want to lose money of course. I would be open to any idea to get us to the Premier League. When I was appointed to the government, I not only had to quit Sheffield United but also Saudi Paper. I sold all my shares because I thought I would stay in the government for four to eight years. I only wanted to keep Sheffield United and one or two other things. Now, I want to be successful at one or two things and hopefully one is Sheffield United. But, to answer your question, I would never be selfish, I would never stand in the way of Sheffield United being successful. If someone said, we want the club and we will put £100m in, I would be very reasonable.
JS: Would you ever entertain the prospect of accepting investment from an outside source?
PA: When I bought into the club, I don’t want to lose money of course. I would be open to any idea to get us to the Premier League. I don’t want someone saying give my per cent away. I’m not in a position to do that, unless I win the lottery maybe (laughs). When I was appointed to the government, I not only had to quit Sheffield United but also Saudi Paper. I sold all my shares because I thought I would stay in the government for four to eight years. I only wanted to keep Sheffield United and one or two other things. Now, I want to be successful at one or two things and hopefully one is Sheffield United. But, to answer your question, I would never be selfish, I would never stand in the way of Sheffield United being successful. If someone said, we want the club and we will put £100m in, I would be very reasonable.
JS: How important is it that the club generates more money? Does improving the business operation feed into improving the team?
PA: The goal is always the Premier League. We want a world class organisation from ticketing, to commercial, to merchandising to scouting to the academy. I am asking questions about how we can get more players from the academy into the first team. Football is maybe 70 per cent money and 30 per cent management. You can beat other clubs short-term if you have a better manager. But long-term, clubs with deeper pockets have a better chance. So Sheffield United must be an efficient business so all the money can go to improving the team.
JS: You describe yourself as a fan. So how do you separate the ‘fan’ from the co-owner? And how do you aim to retain the fans’ trust?
PA: I am a fan but when you are close to the club you can not just be a fan, you have to be rational. But if you are consistent then I think fans trust you. I know fans are always suspicious because how many times have I read about money we are taking out. Look, if anybody can prove I have taken £1 out, I will give them my share for free. I do this because I have a passion. The feeling after the Sheffield Wednesday game was priceless.
JS: Despite being on an upward curve at the moment, the club has made some mistakes in the past. What do you think they are, during your time here at least?
PA: Some of our decisions with buying players went against what I believe because we brought in too many players. We focused on quantity rather than quality. Part of that was when I was away. I can not assume what fits in Saudi fits here. I paid the price for that though. If you bring in 10 players and seven do well, that is good. It is not like some industries where one per cent or five per cent success is good. You have to be consistent. You need good people. You can not go with the hype.
JS: And the biggest plus points?
PA: Hopefully, the best is yet to come. But like I say, overall, if someone had told me would have had two cup semi-finals, play-offs, a promotion and now be sitting in third place, I would say that is amazing. Could it have been better, of course. But I like where we are now. It guarantees us nothing though. So we don’t take anything for granted. We stay close to the coach and the team. I am 52. I don’t believe in magic words. I believe you have to prove and work hard every day. So now we have to work hard to keep improving everything. If we can improve everything two or five per cent, we will be an even better club in five years. If you work hard and have good people, results come sooner rather than later. And hopefully it will be soon.
JS: Finally, the General Sports Council of Saudi Arabia has just struck an agreement with Manchester United to help develop football in Saudi Arabia. Will Sheffield United ever undertake any projects there?
PA: I don’t know too much about the deal we have signed. But I think we should focus now on three things. Improving everything behind the scenes, improving our networks and the team. Then we can go to the Premier League.