TWO WORDS are guaranteed to incense many Sheffield United fans. Dean Hammond. The man no-one wants but who won’t go away.
The 33-year-old was already a controversial and disliked figure amongst fans at Bramall Lane before an inexplicable revelation has enabled him to insist on a 12-month stay of execution. Tail wagging dog springs to mind.
But before we rush to condemn the rapidly declining midfielder who clearly has much more financial sense than professional pride, isn’t this yet another glaring example from United of how not to run a football club?
How is it possible for Hammond to have arrived on-loan from Leicester last August on wages reported to be £17,000 a week with the option, if the fancy took him, to join the playing staff as a fully paid-up member for a further year? As far as business acumen goes, from United’s point of view that is extraordinarily incompetent.
Now we have a situation where the fans don’t want him. The Board don’t want him. New Blades boss Chris Wilder has made it clear he doesn’t want him. The player, however, has invoked a contract clause which clearly undermines the manager. Wilder has responded in the only way he can by putting Hammond on the transfer list. What a farce.
If ever a player epitomised what was wrong with the over-sized squad of largely cash-conscious, egotistical misfits accumulated by Nigel Clough and added to by Nigel Adkins, it is Dean Hammond. Apparently he is prepared to sit out the next 12 months if he has to at a club where he knows he will never play in the first team again.
You don’t have to look far, however, to start unravelling a not-so-tangled web to explain it. Put simply – jobs for the boys. Step forward Adkins. A man who is always looking for an “opportunity” as he has told Blades fans a thousand times.
Hammond, as everyone knows, was sacked boss Adkins’ pet project. But best laid plans have gone awry due to the manager’s catastrophic 11 months in charge which saw his promotion favourites stutter to their lowest finish for 33 years.
Had he stayed there would have been no problem for Hammond, apart from continued disapproval from the stands which clearly didn’t bother him nor the man who appeared to idolise him.
Adulation stemming from Adkins’ time at Southampton where Hammond played an integral role in the Saints remarkable back-to-back promotions to the Premier League. A feat which cemented the manager’s reputation and 12 months ago put him at the top of United’s wanted list.
Hammond’s secret loan deal nugget sheds revealing light on why Adkins was always at pains to defend him no matter how poorly he played. No matter how vociferous the criticism.
Prior to joining United, Hammond had made just 12 appearances for Leicester in the season they defied all odds and clung on to their Premier League status under Nigel Pearson.
With just 12 months remaining on his contract at the King Power Stadium and already a fringe player, Hammond was surplus to requirements as far as new manager Claudio Ranieri was concerned. There is a reason for that.
Nevertheless in rushed what we now know to be a totally deluded Adkins, blinded by his own stupidity dressed up as positivity and the desire to do an old pal, way past his best, a favour. A big favour as it has turned out.
Not only was Hammond suddenly guaranteed first team football – 34 mostly below average appearances – and a chance to go in the shop window for a season to try and restart his faltering career. He was able to demand the bonus of a 12-month contract option at the end of his loan deal and remain in the comfort zone with his protective mate at the helm.
How was this allowed to happen at a club whose co-owner Kevin McCabe always goes to great lengths to emphasise how well run it is? Well, quite simply, Adkins, Hammond and his agent took United’s senior management for mugs. Which, it has to be said, they are.
It's happened too often and offers an insight into the structural problems that have led to arguably the darkest period in United's history.
Pet projects were not only confined to Adkins. In a strikingly similar scenario, John Brayford, the defender who played under an adoring Clough at Burton Albion and Derby County, was signed again by ex-Blades boss Clough. He originally introduced him to the Lane as a loan signing from then Premier League Cardiff City.
Granted, unlike Hammond, Brayford impressed during his six-month loan and United fans welcomed him when he eventually returned to sign a permanent deal. The terms, however, for a League One club were breathtaking. A £1.5million deal and a three-and-a-half-year contract.
For United to spend anything like that in the first place is, to put it politely, out of character. To spend so lavishly on a right-back they didn't need at a time when goal-scoring was a major difficulty, should have set alarm bells ringing.
To offer a deal, presumably with wages to match, extending over 42 months – even United's catalogue of managers could only expect 36 – was surely enough to warrant evacuating the stadium and moving match-day stewards to Phase Five. It should never have been approved.
Brayford hasn't gone close to recreating the form that made him a crowd favourite during his loan spell. Injury may have had a part to play in that and there is no doubt that he is one of the better players in the squad.
He has, however, much to prove if he is ever to start to justify the huge financial package he received which could see him remain at the Lane until summer 2018.
You also have to ask yourself what is it that makes any self-respecting player from higher divisions and with belief in themselves, jump happily at the chance to ply their trade in the third tier of English football? I think we know the answer.
Hammond’s comfortable world was turned upside down a fortnight ago when Adkins received his marching orders. The player will tell you that like anyone in any job he is only acting on what was agreed to secure his family’s income. Why would you choose the job centre when you can continue to steal a comfortable living while looking at the classified ads?
BACK IN CHARGE
As irony would have it Adkins, five days after his dismissal, was back in charge of a team which included Hammond and Blades striker Billy Sharp in front of a 19,445 crowd at St Mary’s Stadium. The occasion was Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis’s testimonial when the current Saints team took on Adkins’ Southampton Promotion X1.
Blades fans can only hope that someone is daft enough to gamble on a now discredited Adkins and give him a job. It may be the only chance United have to offload a financial haemorrhage called Hammond.