James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Beating the odds in the Casino League

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Football and gambling have a curious relationship.

Players are prohibited from betting on matches but the governing bodies who devised this rule view bookies as a valuable source of sponsorship.

Sheffield United have invested wisely rather than gambled under Chris Wilder's management

Sheffield United have invested wisely rather than gambled under Chris Wilder's management

Perhaps, in its hour of need, the NHS should negotiate similar agreements with Superkings or Marlboro. Then again, perhaps not. Muddled thinking, particularly when there’s a few quid involved, is something football does uniquely well.

If they continue in the same vein over the coming weeks then, sooner rather than later, Sheffield United will find themselves coming under pressure to throw the dice themselves. Eight points clear at the top of the table and, even more significantly, eleven ahead of Scunthorpe in third, promotion to the Championship beckons. Or the “Casino League” as Chris Wilder prefers to call it. A glance through the accounts of most second tier clubs confirms, unfortunately, he is right.

Deloitte, the firm tasked with researching the professional game’s finances, revealed why in its most recent annual review. Although turnover across the division increased during 2014/15 to £548m, salary costs also grew. With Championship clubs spending an average of £23m a year keeping their players in Armani, the wages to revenue ratio stood at 99 per cent. A figure researchers described as “an unsustainable level of spending without the support of owner funding.” It also, they warned, “provides an indication of the desire for clubs to gamble on achieving promotion” and “why Championship clubs are so reliant on owner support, and are left vulnerable should that...no longer be available.”

Incidentally, the same measure across leagues One and Two remained below 75 per cent for the 14th consecutive season,” aided by the continued application of the Salary Cost Management Protocol.” (A system I might take a closer look at over the coming weeks).

Some Championship clubs would do well to remember they are in the Football League, not Las Vegas

Some Championship clubs would do well to remember they are in the Football League, not Las Vegas

Doubtless, some supporters and journalists will celebrate this scenario; cheer the fact that rich men and women are prepared to bankroll their favourite team. They are usually the same folk who fall for the cringeworthy nonsense spouted by those owners who, after completing the purchase, start professing undying love for the club they’ve just bought. I don’t and, like many others, know this type of affection takes much longer to develop than the time required to write a cheque.

If, and it remains if, United do go up then they must resist the urge to gamble. Instead, invest with prudence, a proper plan and intelligence.

Sheffield United must invest wisely if they are promoted, not roll the dice.

Sheffield United must invest wisely if they are promoted, not roll the dice.