Sheffield United: The more leaders on the pitch, the better for Clough

Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough and skipper Michael Doyle
Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough and skipper Michael Doyle
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Two of the players he has signed this summer were captains of their previous clubs but Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, is unmoved by claims the presence of Andy Butler and James Wallace could provoke a diplomatic incident at Bramall Lane.

Instead Clough, whose side will begin the new League One campaign with a home fixture against Bristol City on August 9, told The Star that increasing the volume of experience at his squad’s disposal should ensure it is better equipped to mount a sustained challenge for promotion next term.

Although Clough refused to offer any indications about whether Michael Doyle is set to retain the armband after Butler’s transfer from Walsall was confirmed - “We’ll probably see what happens during pre-season” - he did reveal that United’s most recent recruitment drive has been designed, in part, to give them a psychological edge over their anticipated rivals for a top six place.

“You can’t have too many captains in a team,” Clough said. “I don’t just want the person who is the skipper to act like a captain, I want as many people as possible in there to conduct themselves in that way.

“We’ve got a lot of matches coming up and a lot of them are probably going to be very demanding. That’s what you’ve got to prepare for and expect.

“So the more leaders that we’ve got out there the better. That’s the way we see it anyway.

“The more captains the better because you’re going to have to rely on that type of mindset at times. It’s what all the best teams have.”

Despite watching United win 15 of their final 23 matches in all competitions last season, Clough has previously acknowledged his players “can be a little bit quiet” at times. Together with Doyle and Butler, Wallace boasts a reputation for being a demonstrative performer while Neill Collins, the former Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-half, is another ferociouscompetitor.

“Sometimes we could do with being louder out there,” Clough said. “But that’s not a criticism because we’ve still got a group full of excellent characters as the results they got has shown.

“Every team has got their own strengths and weaknesses and, like everyone else, we are always striving to improve when and where we can.”

Clough is correct to insist that United must impose their personality as well as technique on opponents. Although the South Yorkshire club eventually finished seventh in the table after recording a win ratio of 54 per cent following his appointment eight months ago, 17 per cent of their victories in League One last season were achieved by a narrow 1-0 margin while United failed to score in 39 per cent of their last 46 games in the competition.

Crucially, United recovered only 11 points from losing positions with Clough identifying slow starts as one problem which had to be addressed during the close season. Moves for Wallace and Butler, coupled with Chris Basham’s arrival from Blackpool, are viewed as the solution.

“We think we’ve brought in good players with good characters to supplement those who are already here,” Clough said. “We do a lot of work on that aspect because it’s vitally important when you want there to be a good atmosphere and strong mentality behind the scenes.”