WHAT do Sheffield United have in common with Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and their Mancunian namesakes?
At first glance, given the fact that the latter four are all positioned in the upper echelons of the Premier League, not very much.
But the answer to this belated Christmas quiz is, dear reader, they are all, in modern football parlance, ‘selling clubs’.
Robin Van Persie’s departure from the Emirates is still causing ructions in north London while supporters of the Merseyside giants face an anxious wait to discover whether the likes of Marouane Fellani and Luis Suarez will follow Jack Rodwell and Fernando Torres through the exit door.
But Sir Alex Ferguson’s failure to retain Cristiano Ronaldo’s services when Real Madrid came calling revealed, perhaps more so than any other recent piece of business in the English game, the existence of a footballing food chain.
Something which, as another transfer window prepares to swing open in four days time, Danny Wilson will doubtless get sick of being reminded by fans and hacks alike.
After all, there are plenty of players at the United manager’s disposal coveted by colleagues elsewhere or who would command a pretty decent fee.
Not that officials at Bramall Lane, where Wilson’s team prepare to entertain Hartlepool tomorrow sitting on top of the League One table, are actively plotting to sell the family jewels. Although only a liar or clairvoyant would dare to predict what will happen over the next few weeks.
Harry Maguire and George Long, two of the division’s most promising young talents, are expected to remain in situ until at least the end of the campaign when doubtless, together with family and agents, their development will be reviewed.
But, as Ronaldo’s example shows, both the acquisition and retention of players is a far more complicated business than often imagined. The same goes for contractual arrangements too.
Given the implications this can have for a team’s Salary Cost Management Protocol calculations, wheeling and dealing is not simply a matter of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Now, when folk come in, people on the periphery must almost certainly leave to avoid breaching pay and investment thresholds.
Take Maguire and Long, both pretty grounded individuals, out of the equation for a moment. (And hopefully remove the risk of this column being interpreted as some sort of coded message about United’s plans).
Say, for instance, Joe Bloggs suddenly finds himself the subject of a concrete bid from one of the country’s leading names.
A four year deal worth £25,000 a week guarantees over £5m will go gushing into his bank account. Tough, I’m sure you’ll agree, to refuse.
And once a player indicates they are keen to move, the balance of power shifts from the selling to buying club.
It’s that food chain again. Which United, as their interest in Motherwell’s Jamie Murphy demonstrates, can also exploit themselves.