Sheffield United: This transfer window should be hectic, but here are six reasons why it isn't
It won’t have escaped people’s notice but this summer’s transfer market is quieter than Skegness promenade on a windy winter afternoon.
Plenty of deals have been mooted. But precious few completed. And the new season, for Championship sides like Sheffield United is now only three weeks away.
James Shield, The Star’s United writer, has spoken to people both at Bramall Lane and beyond to discover why so little is happening during what is usually such a busy time of year.
With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing clubs to play the overwhelming majority of their games behind closed doors since the beginning of last year, it’s in pretty short supply right now. Most of them are looking to either restructure their finances or completely overhaul their spending plans as a result.
United are insulated to some extent because they are in receipt of a Premier League parachute payment after being relegated last season. But the loss of top-flight status will still hit them hard, with solidarity payments and broadcasting revenues in the English Football League absolutely tiny compared to those handed out at the highest level.
Markets hate uncertainty and, with the global health crisis still wreaking havoc with professional sport, owners have instructed their managers and head coaches to make surgical rather than wholesale changes to their playing staffs according to one agent.
Most of the Championship’s leading names - well, those expected to challenge for promotion - have new managers or head coaches at the helm. United appointed Slavisa Jokanovic in May, but he didn’t officially take charge until July 1. Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, who also surrendered PL status last season, have unveiled new figureheads. AFC Bournemouth hired Scott Parker after he left Craven Cottage.
What is happening at Bramall Lane right now is, one footballing consultant has told The Star, reflects goings-on elsewhere. Jokanovic knows the squad he inherited is, by second tier standards, strong. A shortage of self-belief after what proved to be a dispiriting campaign, not lack of calibre, could be United’s biggest issue - particularly if they don’t get off to a flying start.
Given the need to spend more wisely than ever, that means he wants to carefully examine every single player at his disposal before reaching a final decision on United’s wants and needs ahead of the deadline. Certain key vacancies have already been identified and must be filled. But others, particularly those designed to flesh out a squad, have not.
Speaking to the media earlier this month, Jokanovic acknowledged United will place special emphasis on the loan market this summer. Their focus, he confirmed, will be on players contracted to PL sides with a chance of breaking into their parent club’s starting eleven the season after next.
The only trouble is, with the European Championships meaning most top-flight managers are not yet in a position to predict how their squads might look when they return to competitive action, they are reluctant to allow any of their best young prospects leave right now. When those who have spent the summer on Euro 2020 or Copa America duty return to work, the situation should change.
“It’s like the Cold War, where you used to get troops on one side of the Iron Curtain moving around to mimic the positions of those on the other.” That is how one agent described the current state of play in the transfer market to The Star.
If West Brom, Bournemouth or Fulham suddenly started splashing the cash, he suspects United and others hoping to challenge for a top two place would begin to show their hands too. Instead, with precious little happening, the likes of Jokanovic, Parker and Marco Silva, his replacement in west London, feel comfortable taking their time to study those already at their disposal.
Probably the one area where United have consistently excelled in recent years is youth development. Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and of course Aaron Ramsdale, who is now back on the books at Bramall Lane, were all members of the England squad which reached the Euro 2020 final on Sunday.
They all progressed through United’s system. Inevitably, given the speed of their climb through the divisions under Jokanovic’s predecessor Chris Wilder, the flow of talent from the Steelphalt Academy into the first team slowed a little towards the end of his reign. But a number of youngsters, including Antwoine Hackford, were handed opportunities before the tap was turned fully back on.
Paul Heckingbottom, who took caretaker charge following Wilder’s departure in March, selected a flurry of home grown talents towards the end of the campaign. Daniel Jebbison became the youngest player to score on his full PL debut in the competition’s history when he netted the winner at Everton and will be hopeful of getting more game time under Jokanovic. The presence of people like Jebbison means Jokanovic is under less pressure to make signings simply to flesh out his squad.
PREMIER LEAGUE INTEREST
All of the clubs relegated from the PL - and those who just missed out on promotion - expected to receive hostile bids for some of their players. What happens with Sander Berge, Aaron Ramsdale and George Baldock, for instance, could have as much of a bearing on United’s recruitment policy as any of the issues outlined above.
Jokanovic will want to have a clearer picture about what is likely to happen with these three before committing himself to any serious pieces of business.