SOMETIMES it’s what is not said that can be most revealing. Read between the lines and a picture is emerging of a divided camp at Sheffield United last season.
Former England and Blades midfielder Tony Currie gave as much away this week. Drawing comparisons with former United managers Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock, he said: "When those two were in charge the whole place – on and off the pitch – seemed to be all pulling in the same direction. Nigel [new manager Nigel Adkins} clearly wants to create something similar and that's absolutely great to hear."
By inference Currie's innocent observation suggests that wasn't the case under sacked boss Nigel Clough. There is more than enough evidence to support that.
Take Diego De Girolamo for example. The Chesterfield-Born Italian Under-20 international who has never started a league game for United despite being feted as an immense talent, refused categorically a new contract offer last winter. Now he is reported to be keen to sign a new deal.
Neill Collins, dropped last October and then loaned to Port Vale for the last two months of the season, is preparing to re-stake his claim for the central defensive role in which he excelled. Possibly captain.
Florent Cuvelier, the former Belgium Under-21 international midfielder, left to rot at Shirecliffe and then loaned to Burton Albion in March, now given the chance to prove his worth to the squad.
BACK AT THE LANE
George Long, United’s England Under-21 international goalkeeper and like De Girolamo an Academy find, had made 65 league appearances for the Blades. Last season he was loaned to League Two Oxford and then Scottish Premiership Motherwell. At the end of the campaign he was told his loan was to be extended. Now he is back in the fold at Bramall Lane.
Callum McFadzean, yet another Academy product who played for England at under-16 level and in March made his debut for Scotland Under-21s. The young midfielder couldn’t get at look-in at the Lane, however, being loaned to Chesterfield and Burton Albion, twice. He too, now has the chance to establish himself at United.
Then there is the curious case of Andy Butler. The centre-half, a free transfer from Walsall last summer, signed a two-year deal. He scored in his one and only appearance for United, a 2-1 Capital One Cup win at Mansfield. After that he was loaned back to Walsall, then Doncaster where he went on to make the move permanent.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to fathom a common denominator linking these six players. Former manager Nigel Clough. You must, however, work it all out for yourself because none of this – Collins and Butler in particular – has been properly challenged and reported. But that’s another story.
Without revisiting all the failings of last season which are well documented elsewhere in View From the John Street, one has to wonder about the petulant and stubborn nature of Clough. How much damage did it inflict on the club? Was it a big contributing factor to his dismissal?
FELL BY THE WAYSIDE
Central defence was problematic for one reason or another all season. United started with two men in Collins and Butler well capable of fulfilling the roles. One, who had just signed a two-year contract was discarded just a few weeks later. The other, a leader, a fans’ favourite and with nothing to prove, fell by the wayside in October.
De Girolamo is an exciting talent whom Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Sunderland, Juventus, Roma and Napoli keep a regular eye on. Mind you it would be of no use sending their scouts to Sheffield. De Girolamo and his agent clearly irked Clough who was quick to dismiss the player when ever mentioned, spent two loan spells at York City before finishing up at Northampton.
George Long’s first team debut for United was in their last Championship match in 2011, a 4-0 defeat at Swansea for which he could not be blamed. He established himself under Danny Wilson in the 2012-13 season when United reached the League One play-off semi-finals, making 44 appearances. Still not the finished article but well on the way to getting there, another 31 outings followed before Clough called time.
The former manager delighted in recounting how he was doing Cuvelier a favour by loaning him to Burton because he lived near to the ground! McFadzean also found himself doing time at the Pirelli Stadium whilst two midfielders, Che Adams and Kieran Wallace were recruited from Northern Premier League Ilkeston.
You see where I am going here. Two Northern Premier League players are given first team opportunities at the Lane, admittedly limited ones. Whilst at the same time a young player developed by United, is playing regular league football on loan and has impressed enough to win a Scotland Under-21 cap, is not up to the mark.
Striker Marc McNulty often criticised by Clough despite finishing United's top scorer in all competitions last season with 13 goals. He made only 11 league starts but was used 20 times as a substitute. Never given time to settle and playing a lonely role up front in a side which provided little for him, it took McNulty only 18 minutes to welcome Adkins to the club after the new boss was unveiled at a Press conference in London. That says it all.
Clough had his favourites, namely John Brayford and all his other ex-Derby signings who were excused despite under-performing. The likes of McNulty, Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn, who often contributed more, were hung out to dry in public.
More reasons why we should all be thankful that Nigel Clough and his petty and ultimately divisive approach has gone.