LIKE IT or not another professional football club operates in Sheffield. This evening there is a 50 per cent chance it could be operating in the Premier League.
Should that be the case it will have massive (pardon the expression) implications for Sheffield United. A huge financial divide which could change the football landscape as we know it in the city for many years to come.
Apologies for revisiting an article posted in March, but this isn’t glass-half-full syndrome or just another way to grab a cheap headline. It’s an unpalatable fact.
Sheffield Wednesday would be returning to the top flight at a time when the cash benefit is at a record high. The Premier League is already by far the richest league in the world. From next season, thanks to a new television deal that wealth borders on the obscene. Should Wednesday survive their first campaign among the elite it would enable a structural transformation beyond their wildest dreams.
For starters, victory against Hull City in the Championship play-off final at Wembley will boost their bank balance by a guaranteed minimum of £186million. And that’s assuming immediate relegation. The same event when United were last involved – against Burnley in 2009 – was worth £60m to the winners, just under a third of what is on offer today.
Not only would there be two divisions between Wednesday and United, the financial gap but for an immensely rich benefactor, would be insurmountable for as far as the eye can see.
As hard as it is to accept, if the stars continue to align over Hillsborough and with huge financial rewards on offer as never before, United fans could become second class citizens in their own city for the foreseeable future.
Just as Manchester United regarded neighbours City an inconsequence for many decades until a financial transformation of previously unimaginable proportions, the Blades are now in serious danger of being left behind on their own patch.
Should Wednesday win promotion and finish 2016-17 fourth from bottom of a spectacularly wealthy Premier League, they will receive £103million in prize money thanks to the new three-year television deal which kicks-off next season. Survival in the top tier would enable them to at the very least double their money and move on to the next level of development as an established top flight club.
A mid-table finish would earn £115m. Even an immediate return to the Championship is worth about £100m plus parachute payments over the following three years totalling £86m.
An eye-watering package which will only further enhance a closed shop of club’s jockeying for a quick return to the Premier League. If it wasn’t already headed in that direction, the Championship is set to become two very different leagues in one, much like the Premier League.
Winning top tier status is difficult enough as it is. Those mere mortals competing in the Championship alongside a new financial super elite of yo-yo clubs are destined to become also-rans. There to survive and/or make up the numbers. Such is the Blades decline they aren’t even at that stage yet.
Either way it’s a bleak prospect for United. Should Wednesday miss their chance this season, they will still have a second bite of the cherry while the Blades languish in the wilderness of League One for a sixth campaign.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow to be even measuring United’s progress, or lack of it, against that of the noisy neighbours. But whether Wednesday win promotion or not, comparisons are inevitable and not without good reason.
Until the Owls bucked the trend this season both Sheffield clubs have been serial under-achievers for far too long. Despite this they benefit from huge fanbases with historically not much to shout about and whose loyalty is frankly remarkable.
Unlikely as it seemed last summer, however, Wednesday's new owner, Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri who freely admits football is not his strong point, decided to do something about it.
Chansiri, who does know all about running the world’s biggest supplier of canned seafood, bought Wednesday for £37.5m in January 2015. He took advice, appointed a little known manager in Carlos Carvalhal and initially sanctioned the arrival of 12 new players – another 13 were shown the door – in his quest to bring top flight football back to Hillsborough by 2017.
The chaos appeared a recipe for disaster but only goes to show that if you know what you're doing – or know people who do – it doesn't have to be that way. Wednesday have demonstrated what strong leadership and fresh ideas can produce.
This evening they could reap the reward which will only emphasis what pitiful leadership United have been burdened with since relegation from the Premier League nine years ago. Blades fans can only hope that Hull seize the moment.
Wednesday are just one match away from regular dates with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, champions Leicester, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The Blades can look forward to among others Fleetwood, Port Vale, Shrewsbury, Southend, Bury and Northampton. Trips to even Rotherham and Burton Albion are out of reach and League One play-off finalists Barnsley could be added to that.
How has it come to this? Something United owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud would do well to reflect on even if looking into the mirror isn't a pretty sight.