SHEFFIELD UNITED fans still waiting for marquee signings which could prove the difference between simply establishing themselves in the Championship and making a challenge for the play-offs, must hold their breaths a little while longer.
Manager Chris Wilder wants value for money and is willing to go to the wire, the transfer window closes on August 31, in pursuit of completing his program to strengthen the squad within budget. “I think the goalposts have definitely moved in terms of the numbers that are being involved in the Championship,” he said, acknowledging that the cash he has to work with cannot compete with the likes of Middlesbrough, Aston Villa or Wolves.
Wilder has however made his case to co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for a share of the £4.5million windfall received from a sell-on clause in ex-Blade Kyle Walker’s recent move to Manchester City from Tottenham. An initial £45m transfer which with add-ons could total £54m for the lifelong Blades fan who grew up in Sharrow and was developed by the club’s academy.
“We did two or three of our best signings late in the window, Ethan Ebanks-Landell (loan from Wolves), Simon Moore (Cardiff City) and Darren Lafferty. The deal that we did for Dan Lafferty (initially a loan from Burnley which became a permanent move in January), the deal that was proposed at the start was completely different one to late on in the window, so we might keep our powder dry and see what pops up.”
United’s boss has made seven close season signings following the Blades League One title-winning triumph. Just one of them, defender Richard Stearman, 29, has current Championship experience. He spent last season on loan at Wolves from Fulham. The others are from the lower leagues.
Loanee 6ft 6ins goalkeeper Jamal Blackman may have rubbed shoulders with Thiabaut Courtois and Petr Cech (now Arsenal) at Premier League champions Chelsea’s Cobham training ground in the past, but his only experience of playing in English League football came last season on loan at Wycombe Wanderers in League Two. He also made a single cup appearance whilst on loan to Middlesbrough.
Wilder revealed recently he still wanted to add a striker, possibly two, a midfielder, a centre-half and a goalkeeper. Since then 23-year-old Blackman joined and is set to make his league debut on Saturday, replacing injured first choice keeper Moore, when United make their Championship return at home to Brentford. John Lundstram followed from Oxford to fill the midfield vacancy. Moore, injured early in the friendly win at Rotherham, had an operation on a knee this week and is expected to be out for up to six weeks.
The Blades are reported to have had a third bid, believed to be £1.25m, for defender Darragh Lenihan, turned down by Blackburn.
The Blades have just had a third bid, reported to have been £1.25m, rejected by Blackburn Rovers for former Republic of Ireland Under-21 defender Darragh Lenihan, pictured, an on-going issue as is vital re-enforcement up front.
“It’s the toughest part of the job, getting players in,” added Wilder. “We feel we did quite well with our recruitment last year. We’re maybe in a different situation to half the teams in the Championship in terms of the amount of money that’s getting spent.” Wilder also acknowledged that keeping young players such as 20-year-old midfield talent David Brooks, pictured below, star of England’s Toulon Trophy triumph in June, is a challenge. “It’s difficult, nobody wants their best players to go and if they do it has to come at a price,”he said.
“It is really difficult to keep hold of young players, even in the Championship when their heads get turned, agents are in their ear and the big boys come knocking. That’s just a fact of life.”
Brooks returned to Sheffield from England duty and was set for a loan move to Chesterfield. Such was his form, however, that deal was cancelled and Brooks has played his way into first team contention and scored four goals in United’s unbeaten pre-season warm-ups.
United and England midfield youngster David Brooks is attracting attention from Premier League clubs.
“We’d like to keep hold of our younger players now,” said Wilder. “We’d like to keep hold of David Brooks and I do believe he will get an opportunity [to play first team football]. It was difficult last year because [of] the environment of playing in League One for young players because we needed, more than at possibly anytime in our careers, results on a consistent basis to get out of the division.”
Wilder hopes United’s step up in status will help the cause but has regrets about the departure of another youngster, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, to Everton last summer. The Sheffield-born former Blade joined Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters as the only England players to have scored in a World Cup final when the Under-20 side lifted the trophy in South Korea this summer.
“We’re in a better position and I’m possibly contradicting myself now, but maybe if we’d kept hold of the likes of, or tried a little bit harder to keep hold of the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and maybe one or two of the others [we’d benefit now that we’re] in the Championship. So hopefully we can do that now.”