What Sheffield United must learn from Leeds United in order to succeed - James Shield

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Sheffield United supporters won’t thank me for saying so. Neither, in a rare display of camaraderie between the two sets of fans, will followers of that other team from just up the M1.

But there is plenty, as they prepare to take over the mantle of being Yorkshire’s only Premier League representatives, that the boys from Bramall Lane can learn from Leeds ahead of the new top-flight campaign. Which, following this week’s publication of the 2023/24 fixture list, suddenly feels a damn sight closer than a couple of days ago.

Inevitably, as August’s return to action draws ever closer, much of the conversation surrounding United revolves around transfers. Who might or might not be joining Paul Heckingbottom’s side.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Barring a dramatic change in their financial circumstances, the 45-year-old’s employers won’t be drafting in players from Barcelona, RB Salzburg, their cousins from Leipzig or Juventus. But as Leeds have just discovered, after doing exactly that before being relegated back to the Championship, some things in football are more important than a big transfer kitty. One thing definitely is. And that’s identity.

United, let’s not try and pretend otherwise, need to recruit at least half a dozen professionals of PL calibre in order to stand a chance of being competitive at the highest level. Even then - and this is an issue the game badly needs to address in order to ensure the EFL remains vibrant - they probably face at least three seasons of struggle before even dreaming of becoming established.

But whoever comes in - and whether the numbers are right in terms of both quantity and quality - it won’t count for a jot if they dilute what United stand for. Which is hard work, humbleness and community.

Sheffield United will be Yorkshire's only representatives in the Premier League next season: Paul Thomas /SportimageSheffield United will be Yorkshire's only representatives in the Premier League next season: Paul Thomas /Sportimage
Sheffield United will be Yorkshire's only representatives in the Premier League next season: Paul Thomas /Sportimage

It was a trick that Leeds, deliberately or otherwise, refused to perform. Staying true to their principles whilst changing personnel. Under Marcelo Bielsa, everyone knew what they were about. But when the Argentine left, even more damaging than the loss of his knowledge and charisma, was the fact that neither Jesse Marsch nor Javier Garcia appeared intent on preserving Leeds’ personality. Which, okay, night not be to everyone’s tastes. Myself included. But had still proven bloody effective.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chris Wilder understood the value of character - and by that I mean traits, not bottle - when he led United to a ninth placed finish following their last promotion to the PL five seasons ago. The same goes for Heckingbottom, who immediately restored them after being appointed and then, after an agonising defeat in the Championship play-offs, taking United straight up 11 months later.

If they maintain the same trajectory under his stewardship - and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t given that he’s a supremely talented manager - we could see some genuine European class talent ushered through the doors in the not so distant future. That’s no slight on those already in situ, but you know exactly what I mean.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

But unlike Leeds, where some folk seemed to get totally carried away by the exalted company they were keeping, United need to remember who they are. What they are. And why.

Because if they don’t, then as that lot up the road have just discovered, glamour and profile won’t count for a jot.