When he spots Samir Carruthers wearing his Sheffield United colours before this afternoon’s match at Bramall Lane, Karl Robinson will feel a sharp pang of regret.
The Charlton Athletic manager wanted to sign the midfielder after taking charge of the visitors earlier this term. But, after snatching him from under his former mentor’s nose, it was Chris Wilder who captured Carruthers from MK Dons instead.
“Samir is a very good signing for us,” he admitted last night. “We need to get him up to speed but he gives us something a bit different. His strength is sometimes his weakness but he’s off-the-cuff, he’s a really good kid and he’s lit the place up.
“We’ve seen glimpses and I’m sure, with a full pre-season, he’ll be something else, getting about the park. Ability-wise, he’s really got something. And he can get even better too.”
Although Wilder did not reveal much about the chain of events which saw Carruthers join United during the January transfer window, the 23-year-old’s presence in South Yorkshire underlines the efficiency of their new recruitment machine. Targets are identified, contracts analysed and, if the intelligence is good, strike hard, fast and first. Robinson, who was responsible for bringing Carruthers to Buckingham midway through his six season spell at stadium:mk, had also been tipped off that his successor Robbie Neilson might be prepared to do business. But talks with United were too far advanced.
Carruthers, who could make his eighth appearance for the League One leaders today, was injured only minutes into his debut at Southend 10 weeks ago. Although missing the next three games hampered his attempts to cement a place in United’s starting eleven, Carruthers has still been influential in recent weeks; winning penalties against both Bolton Wanderers and most recently Swindon Town.
“When Samir came in, he wasn’t at the levels we want our players to be at,” Wilder said. “I speak to him all the time and I’ve told him that he’s got a part to play this season.
“He gives us a spark but it’s been difficult for him to catch up, especially after that injury just after coming in. He’s a player, though, and he’ll be great after a proper pre-season. It’s a balancing act because we don’t want to smash him on the training ground and leave nothing in his legs at the weekend.”
Tricky but tenacious, Carruthers is almost the perfect ‘Wilder’ player. With Mark Duffy recovering from injury and Jay O’Shea scoring at the County Ground, the 49-year-old has an abundance of creative options available as he prepares to face a club he considered joining at the end of last term.
“I did speak to them,” Wilder, a United supporter, said. “They made an approach to Northampton at the end of last season and I went down. But lots of things have happened since then and things happen for a reason. I’m glad that they did.”
“Obviously they’ve got issues but it’s a proud old football club,” Wilder added. “There’s lots of similarities with ourselves; it’s a working class club. Everybody wants to see that club brought together on and off the pitch. They’ve got a good manager and good players. We’ll look after our own but they’ll be coming for a result.”
Charlton are 15th in the table after drawing 1-1 with Bradford City in midweek while United remained eight points clear of second-place following their win over Swindon.
“This is going to be a tough game,” Wilder said. “We’ll have to be right at it and fully focused.”