The disagreements about expenditure, quality and public comments which caused tension behind the scenes at Sheffield United
Although the relationship between Chris Wilder and Sheffield United’s hierarchy had already become strained amid a series of disagreements about recruitment and strategic policy, tensions between the two parties are understood to have heightened following last month’s defeat by Liverpool at Bramall Lane when the former manager addressed the make-up of the squad at his disposal.
Wilder will argue his decision to reference United’s lack of depth and top-flight experience compared to other Premier League clubs was designed to throw a protective arm around the players and inject some perspective into the debate surrounding their position at the bottom of the table.
But several well-placed sources within the game have told The Star that certain members of HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mus’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s inner circle were dismayed by what they perceived as a suggestion that United had entered the Premier League campaign with a team only fit for the Championship at their disposal.
Arguing they had rubber-stamped deals for signings from the likes of Liverpool Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea since 2019’s promotion winning season, the 53-year-old’s assessment of United’s predicament - and the reasons behind it - is believed to have contributed to a rapid deterioration in the atmosphere between himself and sections of the Saudi Arabian owner’s inner circle. On Friday, when it was decided the situation had become untenable, the talks which ended with Wilder’s departure being officially announced 24 hours later were formally convened.
Although he has yet to comment publicly on the reasons behind his exit, other than in the statement United released to confirm his five year reign was at an end, Wilder is likely to argue his comments were motivated by a desire to shield both his staff and those directly under his command from some of the more acerbic criticism being aimed in their direction as they slid towards relegation and state his ambition.
Some board members, however, interpreted them differently - believing they were designed to criticise the levels of funding provided since Prince Abdullah took control of United soon after Wilder delivered the second of his two promotions since being appointed three years earlier.
Although the exact details of United’s salary structure will be difficult to independently verify, the average player wage is thought to be somewhere between £35,000 and £38,000 a week with the highest earners believed to be those on permanent contracts rather than temporary deals; such as Ethan Ampadu, on loan from this weekend’s FA Cup opponents Chelsea. United also made a contribution towards the pay packets of former loanees Dean Henderson and Mo Besic, rather than covering the entire amount.
Like Wilder, Prince Abdullah has also kept his own counsel since the dramatic events of last week.
However, during an interview with a PL rights-holder following the January transfer window, which saw him explain why a decision had been taken to put a block on reinforcements being drafted-in, he talked-up the quality of United’s players, saying: “When the team is playing well, they don’t need anyone.”
That suggests he is also likely to have taken a dim view of what many of those around him perceived as criticism of the team’s depth of talent; particularly in wake of the decision to hand several long-standing members of the squad new contracts.