IN the end common sense rules ok. The outcome of three weeks of turmoil could hardly have worked out better for Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder who was so close to quitting. Or the army of supporters who stand four-square behind him.
His immediate and very real concern assuaged, for the time being at least, that a different management model might be introduced under a new regime reducing the role of manager to being purely concerned with coaching. An issue that overshadowed all others and one that he was not willing to compromise. More of that later.
A promise from the club’s owners of an improved budget to enable the signing of better quality players in key positions.
The further security of a pay rise for himself and key staff who have been offered extended and improved contracts which run to the end of 2021. In effect new three-year deals.
The damaging battle for full control of the club being waged between Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a fundamental cause of Wilder’s distress, leading to his threat to quit, remains unresolved. The eventual outcome of that could determine the likelihood of Wilder remaining at Bramall Lane the following season and why a new contract was important. Not further reward as it has been painted but financial security should matters change behind the scenes.
Issues at the very top aside, however, the immediate future suddenly looks very promising. Wilder’s bombshell public admittance he was prepared to walk away from the club he loves and has supported since childhood, did exactly as intended.
It forced McCabe and his Saudi partner to put their personal squabble aside temporarily and focus on the prospect of losing the club’s greatest asset if they did not respond positively. For McCabe it is something that could never be accepted and for both owners a predicament that neither needed on top of their problems with each other.
It took an interminable amount of time to resolve but to their credit they stepped back and re-established a chain of command which had been lost. To everyone’s benefit including, of course, the co-owners'.
Now Wilder can take a deep breath and move on knowing he is on a much firmer footing to give United’s promotion bid next season the strategic enhancement it requires. Result. There is no getting away, however, from the reality that Prince Abdullah and his allies were at the root of the problem and remains so. Had McCabe managed to buy out the Saudi’s 50 per cent share before the end of the season, none of the drama of the last few weeks would have happened.
McCabe has been a convert for some time to the doctrine that if United are to realistically progress towards becoming an established Premier League club the ‘have a go’ strategy of the past won’t suffice. He publicly stated as much with Wilder by his side during a question and answer event at Sheffield University in February to held raise funds for the Sheffield Scanner appeal.
He and Wilder share a vision, one hugely influenced by the latter and trusted by the former. Wilder takes a neutral position when talking to the media but he knows exactly where he will stand if McCabe takes back control.
Stability and no deviation from the original blueprint. Followed by outside investment with the eventual aim of McCabe stepping back or bowing out completely. But next time he won’t be foolish enough to sell the family silver in a deal that doesn’t guarantee substantial upfront investment in the team rather than a reliance on trust off the back of a token sale.
What happens if Prince Abdullah emerges with all the spoils is not at all clear. His connection with Blades supporters since buying into United for £1 in 2013 is non existent. His intentions unknown.
What we do know is that his contribution since McCabe introduced him to the club nearly five years ago as a “game-changer” has been anything but. The disappointment so much so that McCabe has gone public with his belief that Prince Abdullah does not have the best interests of United at heart or understanding of what the club represents to its fans.
Wilder, a traditional English manager with a modern twist, knows his job description is totally secure under McCabe. It is believed that Prince Abdullah favours a continental approach where buying and selling players is not the preserve of the manager and his inner circle. He is also said to be keen to tap into the foreign market rather than rely heavily on British and Irish players.
"I work with the owners and the chief executive in an honourable and respectable manner, but I'm here to be the manager of the football club,” Wilder said this week. "I have to run things past them, of course I do, but recruitment and selection decisions are down to me and my staff. That'll always be the case.”
He added: “We'll get the maximum out of the budget and we'll be diligent as we've always been. I'm grateful that the owners have found money to improve the budget I've been given to work with."
A confidante close to the Prince’s camp revealed to ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com, as reported here last week, that the co-owner viewed McCabe and Wilder very much as allies.
Interestingly in the brief statement issued by United which confirmed the manager is staying, it was felt the need to point out: “The co-owners continue their discussions regarding the future ownership of the club and would like to state that Chris has unwavering support from them both and the board of directors.” The sentiment or indeed any reference to events at the Lane was absent from Prince Abdullah's Twitter activity.
McCabe has had a bumpy relationship with Blades fans during his 20-year involvement at the Lane. But I think it is fair to say most hope it is him and not his distant partner who wins control of the club.
What may happen if he doesn’t is probably a question to be answered at the end of next season. In the meantime Wilder, from being on the brink of quitting, has been given almost all of what he wanted. For that Blades fans are just thankful.