When a manager who bleeds red and white threatens to walk away from Sheffield United, you know all is not well behind the scenes.
So when Chris Wilder admitted he could be forced out by divisions in their boardroom, it must be hoped his words bring those in charge to their senses. Because, if things continue as they are, Bramall Lane will lose the best thing which has happened to it in recent years.
The dispute between HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his fellow co-owner Kevin McCabe is no longer just a political conflict. It is, following the 50-year-old’s plea for “clarity” and “direction”, a battle for hearts and minds in the dressing room too.
If Wilder does not receive the help he requires to ensure continued progress following 23 remarkable months at the helm, the fall-out could be catastrophic. And not just on the pitch, where he has restored pride, delivered promotion and, until last weekend’s defeat by Preston North End, masterminded a push for the Championship play-offs against all financial odds. So strong is his bond with his fellow supporters, United would also be plunged into a bitter civil war. Those are the consequences Prince Abdullah and McCabe have now been forced to confront after Wilder went public following United’s final home match of another memorable season..
“If it stays the same I don’t think anybody would be surprised if I didn’t question where my career is going,” he said on Saturday. “I want to progress my career, the careers of the staff and the players and, most importantly, give the supporters hope we can have a genuine football club. A club with a strategy and a plan to move forward. I want to lead it, but I need a bit of help. I am the only voice that comes out at the moment.”
As their lawyers pore over the details of the partnership they signed in September 2013, Prince Abdullah and McCabe have some serious and potentially era-defining decisions to make. Even though a swift resolution is unlikely, do they broker some sort of truce? Do they put differences aside, for the time being at least, and allow Wilder to make plans?
Or do they carry on as they are, crush his spirit, and risk seeing him resign or be lured elsewhere? Both men clearly feel they are in the right. Both will have their own reasons for wanting sole control. But fans have loud voices and long memories. If a manager some already regard as United’s greatest ever leaves in these circumstances, they are unlikely to forgive, forget or be silenced. And the club as a whole could live to regret it for many years to come.