It doesn’t take a behavioural psychologist to work out that all is not well between Sheffield United’s co-owners, Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosa’ad Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Recent statements leave the impression early expectations of the partnership between the houses of Prince Abdullah and McCabe have not been met and the relationship could be on rocky ground.
This is troubling for Blades fans given the potential to distract from on field progress.
McCabe is too experienced and canny to get involved in a public spat but his, “Perhaps, we need an ownership structure that works” comment, at last week’s Octagon Centre appearance, suggests the existing one doesn’t.
Of further concern are the longer-term implications of a successful Prince Abdullah buy-out and a new regime, which despite being involved as co-owners for almost five years, we still know very little about.
The Prince was brought on board with a clear remit – to provide the necessary funds to help The Blades return to The Premier League.
McCabe believed his new associate to be a man of very substantial wealth and an early promise from Jim Phipps, Prince Abdullah’s then spokesperson, supported this view when he said, “think of Liverpool” in terms of future investment potential.
It seems clear early funding was provided to support a, hoped for, quick return to The Championship.
Despite near misses, under Wilson and Clough, this didn’t materialise and it took the transformational impact of Chris Wilder to get the job done without exceptional spending on players and wages.
Another early pledge was that serious funding would be made available once The Blades got back into The Championship.
While modest investment was made in the August and January windows it was hardly ‘game changing’ and certainly more ‘Southport’ than ‘Liverpool.’
Prince Abdullah owns a mansion in Beverley Hills and is reputed to be a regular attender at 49ers fixtures. By contrast, he has watched Sheffield United play in person on only a handful of occasions since 2013.
Another surprising development, given his apparent, rediscovered, enthusiasm towards The Blades, was The Prince’s announcement of his decision to buy Belgium club Beerschot Wilrijk.
At a time when The Blades require focused drive and leadership in order to sustain a charge towards the Premier League, could this cause a distraction?
For the best part of twenty years, McCabe has provided stability and security to The Blades, irrespective of the ups and downs of first team football.
He has remained popular amongst supporters (note his 88 per cent approval rating in a recent Star poll) despite failing to achieve his ambition of establishing The Blades in the Premier League. That’s because they know he cares.
Even if the elusive ‘game changing investment’ did arrive, it provides no guarantee of success.
Of at least equal importance is having talented, football-people on board, who trust each other, work effectively together and really care about their club. In Chris Wilder, Alan Knill, Travis Binnion and Carl Shieber, United, finally, have this formula.
That’s not to say the above named would inevitably leave under a change of ownership but there is an increased risk that they might, if the existing, ‘caring,’ culture is weakened.
British football clubs are not like American – here today, gone tomorrow - sporting franchises.
They are proud institutions with passionate support, deeply embedded in their local communities. While supporters of some clubs readily sell their soul for a fistful of dollars my belief and hope is that Sheffield United is different.
The McCabe legacy of long-term investment in the academy and infrastructure is worth protecting. In order to do so it requires a carefully handled transition from the current owners to any replacement structure.
It requires new owners who really understand the club, believe in its ethos and identity and, above all, who really ‘care.’