UPDATE: United added Everton midifeld man Mo Besic to the sqaud, a season-long loan from Everton, minutes before the transfer window closed.
FOR Sheffield United fans conditioned to a frugal life, this summer’s spending is eye-watering. North of £40million and depending on who you believe as much as £46m including add-ons. Small fry to established Premier League clubs but more caviar than greasy chip butties in S2.
That figure is likely to increase. The summer transfer window remains open until 5pm tomorrow (August 8) and manager Chris Wilder is still chasing an additional midfield man. Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, whom the manager greatly admires and ticks all the boxes, was a name in the frame which flew under the radar before he joined Fulham on a season-long loan this week.
That United doubled their already unprecedented spending spree in one fell swoop, paying an initial £17m for Swansea striker Ollie McBurnie, add-ons will increase the fee to £20m, is revealing.
It confirms the so-called budget of £20m leaked to the media in May was a smokescreen as Wilder sought to extract as much value from the market as possible. It also demonstrates that the club’s warring co-owners have managed to temporarily put their personal issues aside in a short-term ceasefire.
You would like to think it is solely to ensure the well being of the club. More likely a winner-take-all motivated gamble. The loser of the High Court battle for full control – a judgment is due shortly – no doubt receiving a pre-nup compensation payment. But it might not be so simple. There is the prospect of appeal from whoever loses out which could see the destabilising saga and accompanying uncertainty of ownership drag on.
But credit where credit is due. Better that than United being left to fight on horseback against the heavy guns and tanks in the big boys’ league while the ownership issue is settled. For that we must be grateful.
As a result Wilder, who set a new Bramall Lane transfer record with the £4m-plus arrival of central defender John Egan in the summer of 2018, has broken it a further four times in the last month. Instead of trading largely with a few quid in his back pocket – Egan and Ollie Norwood aside – during his three years at the club, Wilder is being treated as a grown up and handed his first cheque book. In fact the first one of his 18-year managerial career.
Has he used it wisely? Co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are lucky to have a man in charge who views entering the transfer market akin to dipping into his own pocket. Value and character are key.
Even so a definitive answer will have to wait until at least ten matches into the new season but an informed guess says yes. While media critics and fans of other persuasions have already written United off, most Blades supporters realise that Wilder has acted intelligently, extracting the maximum for his budget whilst still observing quality control.
No-one with a basic knowledge of how Wilder operates should be surprised. He is merely applying tried and trusted methods buoyed by the ability to cast his net across a superior gene pool.
To those who live in the realm of fantasy, or in talkSPORT’s Adrian Durham’s disingenuous world of deliberate provocation to boost ratings, United aren’t taking the challenge seriously. Recruiting a bunch of Championship players, all of them unproven in the top flight, and Phil Jagielka, 37 this month and ready for retirement, points, they clammer, to one outcome; Championship football again next year.
To those living in the real world, that reasoning is knee-jerk, Uninformed and often born out of plain ignorance. What would £40m buy in a proven Premier League market? Maybe a B-list striker if your lucky and a C-list something else. And as the average top flight player now earns £60,000-a-week, along with inflated wages to match.
No, Wilder has chosen the pragmatic approach and strengthened the depth of his squad, steadfastly using a formula which has brought remarkable results throughout his career, particularly at Bramall Lane. Oli McBurnie is the closest to the finished article and a stellar signing. The complete striker who has many facets to his game. At 23 primed to make a big name for himself having outgrown the Championship where last season the Scotland international scored 24 goals, two of them against United, in what was an average Swansea City team.
Wilder, though, is famed for his ability to extract the best out of players. Leon Clarke and David McGoldrick leading examples. With all due respect to the aforementioned, United have searched from a much higher vantage point this summer. French striker Lys Mousset falls into the could do better category. A player who hints at great promise, but lost his way at Bournemouth following a £5.4m move from Le Harvre in 2016, Exactly the material Wilder loves to work with.
Republic of Ireland international Callum Robinson, 24, already widely regarded as a hot property, scored 13 goals for Preston last season and is ready to make the breakthrough.
As are Luke Freeman, outstanding for QPR, brought in to bolster midfield alongside Ben Osborn, from Nottingham Forest, a left-sided player who adds balance and will give Enda Stevens competition at wing-back.
Ravel Morrison, of course, is the wild card. The 24-year-old former Manchester United graduate with a troubled past could be a revelation if his mind remains focussed on football. He’s certainly come to the right club if he wants to make progress. He’ll receive short shrift if he doesn’t. Having arrived from Östersund FK on a free transfer there is little to lose.
Wilder is hoping that Morrison will be the man to unleash something special and has placed enormous trust in someone once described by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s boss at the time, as as having “as much natural talent as any youngster” the club had signed. Former Reds defender Rio Ferdinand called him “the best young kid I have ever seen in my life”.
Break the pact with Wilder and Morrison will return to being the outcast which has seen him flunk his opportunities at Old Trafford, West Ham and Lazio. An unwanted disruption who has also been loaned to five other clubs before United plucked him from central Sweden where the 26-year-old was trying to make yet another fresh start. Pay attention and United may have a huge game-changing star on their hands whose value will rocket.
Then there is former England international Phil Jagielka’s nostalgic return to the Lane where his career began. A has-been, say the critics. Maybe for Everton where he stayed for 12 years and was team captain for the last six of them.
But his presence in the dressing room alone is worth its weight in gold. A leader with a wealth of top flight experience in a squad which lacks it. A cool head on the pitch when under the cosh.
For different reasons all these additions have arrived at the Lane with something to prove. Even goalkeeper Dean Henderson, a star of last season’s promotion campaign and now on loan for a second season from Manchester United, falls into that category. Hendo, who openly believes he can become the best goalkeeper in the world, has never played in the Premier League.
Given a burning ambition to become England’s No1 sooner rather than later, and also dislodge David De Gea at Old Trafford – either that or become an equally big name elsewhere – it is even more of a test for him. Make or break perhaps.
No, far from the popular perception, United re-enter the top flight in good shape following an absence of 12 years. Much better than most Blades fans could have hoped for at the end of June when a bitter court case exposed how deep the divide is between co-owners and not one new player was on the payroll.
Of course this is not to ignore the pitfalls. But worst case that possibility has been covered as well. If United were to be relegated they would have a ready-made squad fit to stage a quick return, backed, of course, by a parachute payment. Of those players wishing to leave and whom might attract Premier League clubs, it’s likely the Blades would profit.
Wilder is a man with a well thought out plan. One that has given United the best chance to compete this season. Before a ball has been kicked in anger only a fool would back against him.