Why Sheffield United have drafted plans to upgrade their training ground
When Chris Basham first joined Sheffield United, six long years ago, the midfielder turned defender used to tell a story about his former club’s training ground.
It revolved around a bucket, placed in one corner of its cramped changing quarters, which used to overflow with water whenever it rained.
Only four seasons earlier, Blackpool had been rubbing shoulders with the best in the business after gaining promotion to the Premier League. But by the time Basham left, in the summer of 2014, they were still preparing for matches in ramshackle surroundings beneath the flight path of a nearby airport.
The money they received for reaching the highest level had not been used to improve facilities. In short, the 10 months they spent in the world’s richest domestic competition created no lasting legacy.
Chris Wilder is determined United do not fall into the same trap by missing the opportunities top-flight status brings. The Steelphalt Academy was a state of the art facility when it first opened its doors in 2002. But it has since become a victim of United’s rapid rise through the divisions, which has seen them climb from the third to the first tier of English football following the manager’s appointment four years ago.
Wilder, who instructed United’s hierarchy to overhaul the site at the beginning of last summer, is believed to be among those advocating a change of location in order to help them keep pace with the modern game.
Although the costs incurred would almost inevitably eat into his recruitment budget, he believes the investment would reap big returns.
“We're not embarrassed at what happens at Shirecliffe,” he said. “It's spit and sawdust, and the players are there to get their hands dirty.
“But in terms of the intensity of the Premier League and recovery being key, and video analysis going through the roof, these are things we need to keep pace with and unfortunately at this moment we're struggling to hang onto the coat-tails of teams spending the numbers they are on training facilities.”
With Wilder drawing a direct correlation between training facilities and the calibre of player a team can attract, Steve Bettis, United’s chief executive, has confirmed plans are in place to demolish the first team building which currently overlooks the site and erect a new purpose built facility. The present structure, where Wilder and his squad are based, is a relic of the old Forgemasters Sports and Social Club, which stood on the site before United moved in.
HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who gained control of United in the Autumn following a bitter High Court battle with former co-owner Kevin McCabe, has given the go-ahead at a time when he must also reach agreement with his former business partner to acquire property interests, which include the training ground and Bramall Lane itself, by July.
“The whole point of promotion to the Premier League for us is also looking to create a legacy from it and that's improving the first team but the facilities as well,” Bettis said.
“Without a doubt we've highlighted the first-team building at Shirecliffe needs improving and updating so we're in discussions and close to finalising a new first-team building to be built in the summer and hopefully ready for next season.”
United climbed to fifth in the table after beating AFC Bournemouth last weekend and, speaking before they travelled to Dubai for the mid-season break, Wilder acknowledged the process of identifying targets ahead of the summer transfer window has already begun.
Sander Berge, a £22m signing from Genk, was among those to join United last month, together with Panos Retsos; a defender on loan from Bayer Leverkusen.
“It's a place of work as well,” Wilder said. “Not only are we buying good players, we want to improve them in all aspects of the game, from a physical point of view, a technical and tactical point of view.
“These things will attract players, I'm sure, and the boys will see the benefit in the summer and going into next season.”