Sheffield United: Pride in the shirt and lure of the Lane
The footballing landscape has changed dramatically since Sheffield United were last in the Premier League.
A refurbished Wembley had just reopened, Chris Wilder was manager of Halifax and Leicester City, now champions of England, had just finished 19th in the second tier.
Nevertheless, despite the Blades spending nearly a decade outside of the top flight, Wilder is adamant Bramall Lane remains a big draw for players looking to turbo-charge their careers.
“I’ve been very comfortable and optimistic early on in the process that good players want to come here,” he said. “We should be attracting players for the right reasons though. It shouldn’t be because we give them big money.
“It should be because this is something people are proud to be a part of.”
Wilder took charge of United when Nigel Adkins, his immediate predecessor, was sacked after leading the club to an 11th-placed finish in League One last term.
Wilder is a lifelong supporter of his new employers and also a former player, so his credentials sit comfortably with those supporters who fear the aura surrounding Bramall Lane has been damaged in recent years.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about how well we do as a football club. We can’t hide away from the fact we are in League One and we’ve got to do our utmost to get out.
“It helps that we’ve got a decent budget, it helps that we’ve got good facilities and the fact that, if we get it right, we’ll be backed enormously in great numbers and with great noise. Home and away, you can count on that.”
Wilder’s priority is to construct a first-team squad. Ten players were released soon after his appointment, with another seven, including Dean Hammond and Martyn Woolford, made available for transfer.
The arrival of Mark Duffy and Chris Hussey earlier this month marked the start of that process. Two centre-halves and possibly an oldfashioned targetman now feature at the top of United’s wanted list.
Gordon Greer, previously of Brighton and Hove Albion, and Kyle McFadzean, who progressed through the Blades youth system before representing Crawley Town and MK Dons, have been repeatedly linked with moves to South Yorkshire.
Recruiting the likes of Greer, however, could prove difficult given Wilder’s desire to seize control of wage costs.
Lee Novak, previously on loan at Chesterfield, is not thought to be a target.
United’s Kieron Freeman is wanted by Portsmouth despite struggling to make an impact during a recent spell on loan at Fratton Park where Novak has an admirer in manager Paul Cook.
It was telling that Wilder, in stark contrast to many former United managers, played a key role in the negotiations which led to goalkeeper George Long agreeing a new contract last week.
“There were players who were going to be offered contracts who we’ve not offered contracts to,” Wilder said.
“When you come in to a football club, you’ve got to make quick decisions.
“Hopefully they are the right ones,” he added. “I can’t guarantee that they’ll all be right but hopefully most will be.”
“What I can guarantee is that they’ll be taken for the right reasons, in the interests of what we think is best for Sheffield United Football Club.
“Because that’s the most important thing in all of this. That’s what will always come first.
“Always and at all times.”