Tomorrow, Sheffield United return to Championship action with a home fixture against Swansea City. On the eve of the new season, The Star's James Shield talks to manager Chris Wilder about transfers, his targets for the campaign and everything else in between.
James Shield: Firstly, are you happy with the position the club finds itself in as the new season approaches?
Chris Wilder: We've had to go through some pain but I think we're in good nick. All the areas we looked at after last season, I feel we've addressed and I still feel there's a decent signing left in us. We're pleased with the personalities we've brought in, which is important, and the quality. They fit in with the ethos of the football club.
JS: With John Egan, Ben Woodburn, David McGoldrick, Dean Henderson and now Kean Bryan, there's some real talent and a good mix of youth and experience too.
CW: We have to buy smart and I think we have been. I know there's been talk about penalties in loans, if people don't play. We've gone worst case scenarios, with all of our deals, with the caveats some clubs put in. So there's no issue there. I should imagine highly regarded lads from Manchester United and Liverpool won't want to come here and play second fiddle. But some of the stuff that's been flying around, we're fine with.
JS: Have you kept something in reserve for the next transfer window though?
CW: We've got something for now and January if we need it.
JS: There's a school of thought that says this season's competition is even stronger than last. Do you agree?
CW: I really can't tell you how the division will pan out. We didn't know last year. We'll have an idea, of course, but it's not an exact science. Are the three relegated teams going to sell players? Will their players want to play in the Championship after being in the Premier League? Who will they buy? The obvious thing is they'll be strong, because historically the teams who do are. But, look at Sunderland last year. Some teams will be better than last year, ourselves included I think. How will the teams who came up do? What you can say, is that it's going to be a powerful league.
JS: And yet, as you showed last year, you can deliver success without spending stupid or potentially dangerous amounts?
CW: If you look at the relegated teams, you know they are going to do business. The big change is Nottingham Forest, who are suddenly buying players for £10m plus. What makes it even more interesting, is the teams who are under an embargo. That's not a surprise though.
JS: When you first arrived at the club, you took the shock therapy approach with a lot of new players arriving. After winning the League One title and then pushing for the play-offs last season, you're now taking a more considered view.
CW: Hand on heart, I would say the business we've done is, pound for pound, right up there. We lost David (Brooks) but brought Ben in. Dean will have a good season, John will be a great player for us. Yes, we moved David on but to keep John Fleck and Jack O'Connell, I'm pleased with the business.
JS: Does the decision to bring the deadline for permanent signings forward to next week hinder you?
CW: I don't think it makes a difference. We've still got a month to trade in. We're comfortable. We've still got a month to loan or do a loan to buy. Yes, it changes things a little bit. But not to a great deal. There will still be a mad rush towards the end, the same as it was towards the end of August.
JS: Egan was described as the club's most expensive ever signing when he arrived from Brentford last month. Was it a big step to break this record?
CW: Yet again, you look at players who have gone for more money and that just makes me delighted we've got John for what we did. In today's market, it's a really reasonable fee. We'll develop him, he'll grow with us and help us bridge that gap. He's a leader. I'm not frightened or scared to do it. It's a sensible deal. And that's all I want for the club.
JS: You were a big champion of bringing Steve Bettis back to Bramall Lane as chief executive. Why? Clearly you're pleased to see him return.
CW: It's great. It's not a love in between us. I push him and he pushes back. We've got the same ambition and the same focus. He's his own man, he's not reliant on either owner but he works closely with them and they trust him, the same as I do.
JS: The club has clearly developed on the pitch, but what about off it?
CW: We want to keep moving forward. We've got a great reputation in the city. There's a feelgood factor I think. Be it ticket prices or how we handle ourselves, in our own down to earth way. I've always said, I think it's a people's football club. I keep saying it, this club is owned by the supporters. The owners, yes, are custodians. It's my pals' club, it's the club of people who have moved away and come back. I was playing golf the other day and two ladies came out and said they were season ticket holders. It's their club too. And it was a posh golf club by the way! It's their club and it's the club of people from Woodseats, Manor Top, Arbourthorne and all the other places too. We just serve it and I'm proud to serve it.
JS: Back to on the pitch matters, what constitutes success this season?
CW: It's still difficult to get you head around the fact that we're stronger favourites to go up than the team from S6. Especially when you look at the money they've spent, how they've been in a play-off final and how long they've been in the division. Who knows what is around the corner. Do we lose someone in January? Do we kick on? You just don't know. We have a structure and we have a way. We're not going to say we're going to do it this year. We're not a boom and bust club. We just want to keep improving and keep knocking on the door. I know our fans don't see it as being 'this is our year or we're doomed.' The big thing is the club keeps developing and that we don't put ourselves in the situation some clubs do. We just want to keep developing.