SHEFFIELD UNITED’S Saudi co-owner claims manager Chris Wilder was coerced into signing striker Ched Evans.
A direct contradiction of what the Blades team boss emphatically rejected in 2017 and making the Welshman’s return his first close season priority. “If that was ever the case, then I’d shake the chairman’s hand, wish them the best and say ‘thank-you’ before walking out of the front door. Just like I walked in through the front,” said Wilder at the time.
“Ultimately, it was my decision and mine alone to get Ched. I’ve seen and heard things claiming otherwise but, quite simply, they aren’t true. I wouldn’t bring in anyone I didn’t want here or who I didn’t think could make a difference.”
But Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud now claims otherwise, casting doubt on what his future relationship might be with his team manager should the Saudi win a High Court battle against partner Kevin McCabe for full control of the club.
Appearing for the first time before Mr Justice Fancourt in a hearing which began in early May and is scheduled to continue until late this month, Prince Abdullah claimed McCabe was the driving force behind Evans’ return, adding that the cost was £1million.
Confirmation, perhaps, of a rumoured and separate signing-on fee paid to the now transfer-listed player widely reported to have cost £500,000 from Chesterfield. Prince Abdullah’s revelation came after he told the court he didn’t think his initial £10m investment had been spent wisely. “We ended up with a huge roster of 35 players,” he said.
The 54-year-old, under questioning from Paul Downes QC representing McCabe and Sheffield United Ltd's legal team, gave a withering assessment of how their relationship quickly deteriorated after he bought 50 per cent of the club for £1 in return for the promise of serious investment, described by McCabe as a “game-changer”.
“His style of management after three years, the facts speak for themselves,” said Prince Abdullah, grandson of King Abdulaziz, founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “He was trying to interfere with technical decisions and not allowing managers to do their work. It’s not good for the club.” Citing an example of this, he pointed to McCabe’s “emotional decision” to re-sign Evans. “He talked the coach into it.”
If Prince Abdullah’s recollection is correct, it means Evans’ return will have cost £1.5million in fees to the player, excluding wages reported to be £10,000-a-week (a three-year contract worth £1.5m), and Chesterfield. An extraordinary amount given that United only 12 months earlier were at a 33-year-old low, having just finished 11th in League One under the disastrous reign of Nigel Adkins which severely fractured the club and its relationship with supporters.
Evans’ first spell at the Lane, having cost £3m from Manchester City, ended abruptly in April 2012, when he was convicted of rape and jailed for five years. On appeal, having serving half the sentence, that conviction was overturned and a retrial in October 2016 found him not guilty, shortly after the striker resumed his career following a four-year absence when Chesterfield offered him the opportunity.
United’s initial bid to bring him back into the fold, when he was still a convicted rapist, was met by a national outcry which scuppered his hopes. He eventually retuned to the Lane with serious fitness concerns as flagged up by his former boss at the Proact Stadium, Gary Caldwell. Frustrated that the player he inherited from sacked predecessor Danny Wilson, the ex-Blades manager whom Evans played under at Bramall Lane, was unable to take much part in the Spireites desperate and failed fight to avoid relegation to League Two.
Those concerns became even more pronounced when, clearly unfit, off the pace and suffering with a problem hip, he struggled to re-establish himself at the Lane and, only two months into their promotion season from League One, was given the best part of 12 weeks off in order to have surgery on a damaged ankle.
Evans made two league starts for the Blades during his second spell at the club, 13 appearances in all, before being loaned to League One Fleetwood Town for the duration of last season where he scored 18 goals, made 41 appearances and was voted the club’s player of the year.
United signalled in January that no future remained for him at the Lane when they approved a permanent move to financial basket case Bolton Wanderers. A deal that failed in the last hour of the transfer window.
Luckily, as it turned out for Evans, now 30-years-old. Crisis-hit Bolton, unable to pay wages, were relegated from the Championship, failed to complete their last match due to a strike by players and went into administration and face a 12-points deduction when they begin life in League One. A foodbank has been set up to help backroom staff worst affected feed their families.
Following the completion of his loan to Fleetwood at the end of the season, Evans was one of seven contracted players immediately transfer-listed by Wilder.