James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Fixation with fees could strangle talent

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Footballing traditionalists, apart from those of Italian extraction, will have been enthused by events at San Mames towards the end of last month when Athletic Bilbao, a team comprised purely of home-grown talent, beat Napoli to qualify for the Champions League.

Admittedly I use the term ‘home-grown’ loosely. Not every single one of Ernesto Valverde’s squad have progressed through Los Leones’ youth system. But they are all Basques and a degree of artistic license is required to pose an interesting question: Could Sheffield United ever field a starting eleven, or matchday 18 for that matter, entirely made-up of Redtooth Academy graduates?

The fall-out from transfer deadline day, which has seen Bramall Lane’s hierarchy castigated in some quarters for not making at least one signing on Manic Monday suggests the answer is ‘no.’ Many supporters, and not just a portion of those who follow United, appear to be falling in love with fees rather than the game itself. The true mark of a player’s worth, (admittedly it often provides a guide, but not always), is now supposedly their purchase price.

Parting company with cash viewed as the best way of making “a statement of intent.” Not form or results.

Now, before I get tagged with being a United apologist, their inability to capture at least one of the three targets they had hoped to recruit during the remaining 24 hours of the window represented a failure. Not a huge one, given that 11 new faces have arrived at Bramall Lane this summer, But a failure nonetheless.

Guess what, though? Sometimes it happens. And those apparently venting their spleen on various internet messageboards and phone-in shows have also failed. Failed to say what United should have done instead. Pay over the odds to force through a deal? Bought someone not quite as good as those they were chasing to secure a place on Sky Sports’ yellow ticker reel?

A fascinating documentary on said television channel recently featured an interview with Johan Cruyff who, reflecting upon Barcelona’s 1992 European Cup triumph, said no club hoping to enjoy prolonged success could achieve it through the transfer market alone. Developing youngsters with an affinity for their respective institution was actually the key.

Unfortunately, our insatiable urge to “spend some bloody money,” threatens to make this even more difficult to achieve.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1