So, as Sheffield United prepare to say goodbye to what for the most part has been a thoroughly forgettable 2020, The Star’s James Shield suggests a few they might like to adopt before Saturday’s match at Crystal Palace - where they will be hoping to record their first win of the season.
MAINTAIN PERSPECTIVE: Let’s be honest, the chances are United are going down. Relegation isn’t a cast iron certainty. But you wouldn’t bet your mortgage or life-savings on them staying up. In this social media world, where only those who shout loudest are usually heard, a return to the Championship is frequently described as being catastrophic. It isn’t. Failure, even though our society is now framed to pretend otherwise, is a fact of life. Most people or clubs deemed to be successful have first endured a period of strife. Unless they enjoy the patronage of a billionaire owner - something all but three sides in England’s top-flight now benefit from - most teams seeking to establish themselves at the highest level usually have to spend a little time back in the second tier. Losing top-flight status would be disappointing. But it doesn’t, providing the right infrastructure is in place, have to be disastrous or permanent.
MAKE PLANS AND STICK TO THEM: If United survive, great. But if they don’t, those in charge need to already be devising a plan aimed at ensuring they bounce back - either at the first attempt or the season after that. If the worst does happen, some players will immediately want to go. Expect others to be eventually tempted away. But the core of the squad must remain in place, just like at AFC Bournemouth and Norwich City.
BROADEN HORIZONS: Forget ground sponsorships. Anyone who tells you that’s a good idea, for historic stadia such as Bramall Lane, are either lying or mistaken. Why would a company pay decent money to splash their brand across something that’s already got a name. It works well for new-builds, such as the Emirates. But not elsewhere. There’s a reason why most of these deals involve companies controlled by club owners. They are effectively self-promotional tools or ways of circumnavigating financial fair play regulations. But a glance at the advertising hoardings around United’s pitch reveal a distinct lack of recognised blue chip firms. Yes, look after the local businesses which have backed you in the bad times. But embrace the big corporate world as well, to bring in more money for on the pitch and off the pitch projects.
PRESS AHEAD: With plans to improve the club’s infrastructure, including its training ground and youth system, both of which have struggled to keep pace with the first team’s rapid rise through the divisions. The Steelphalt Academy was state-of-the-art in its day. It isn’t now and, seeing as players spend more time there than they do at Bramall Lane, needs to be brought up to speed. If United are serious about becoming a category one academy, then a new site might even have to be identified for reasons of space. Doing so would ensure the two most recent seasons United have spent in the top-flight deliver a legacy for the football club beyond its employees’ bank accounts. It would help attract better talent too.
MAINTAIN INTEREST: Let’s be honest with ourselves here again; ever since England’s first national lockdown and the decision to ban supporters from watching matches in the flesh, interest in football has waned. Fans say all the right things. They are still loyal and emotionally invested in the teams they follow. But even in an era where Premier League footballers often seem to live on a different planet, folk have never felt more divorced or removed from goings-on at their club of choice. Technology, including video conferencing applications, should be used to help address this situation. Regular online forums, with key figures behind the scenes, would help keep people connected and interested; particularly when results aren’t great.
BE HONEST: Everyone makes mistakes. Responsibility for United’s struggles this term, their inability to grasp the opportunities last season’s results offered, is collective. You can’t just lay the blame at one person’s door. Poor form often leads to tension behind the scenes, as people look to protect their own reputations and backs. All members of the club’s hierarchy should sit down, discuss where they have gone wrong, where they can do better and then move forward without holding a grudge. Oh, and others close to people involved should refrain from publishing what they probably think are clever - but in reality are anything but - comments on social media. Airing your dirty laundry in public is never a good idea or a good look.
BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE: ‘Plan B’ is a myth. Most managers or head coaches don’t really have one, because they prefer to concentrate on making sure ‘Plan A’ works. Which actually, when you think about it, seems to be a better way to spend your time than fine-tuning a strategy you suspect is going to fail. Squads are inevitably shaped with a certain way of playing in mind, and United’s is no different. Wilder isn’t as wedded to his 3-5-2 formation as is often claimed, frequently changing his team’s shape during the course of games. But when Jack O’Connell was ruled-out of action earlier this term, the fact the best way of preserving it was to move wing-back Enda Stevens inside - effectively weakening two positions rather than one - exposed the fact United, with no natural wingers on the books, are not really equipped to operate any other way. Ensuring they are will come at a price, but surely one worth paying.