Applicants for the managerial vacancy at Bramall Lane were asked to supply a series of references, outlining both their personal and professional attributes, before being placed on the short-list to succeed Nigel Clough, writes James Shield.
The selection process, described by a source as the most exhaustive and rigorous search undertaken by Sheffield United’s hierarchy since Neil Warnock’s departure eight years ago, is designed to avoid a repeat of the upheaval which contributed towards their defeat in the play-off semi-finals last term.
Candidates, grilled by Kevin McCabe and representatives of fellow co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at a secret location earlier this week, made presentations detailing proposals on how to best utilise a squad which has undergone a dramatic and expensive makeover in recent seasons. Within that framework, they were also required to identify viable transfer targets and provide evidence they could deliver value for money during the forthcoming window and beyond.
United’s decision to subject those vying to take charge of the League One club to such forensic levels of scrutiny is a response to concerns about the number of new arrivals who failed to contribute at first team level during the previous campaign.
Although Clough, whose dismissal was announced on Monday morning, insisted he had been tasked with “building a football club” following his appointment 19 months ago, The Star understands that some influential figures grew increasingly frustrated when investments in the likes of Michael Higdon and Andy Butler produced little or no return.
Although Higdon’s progress has been stalled by a series of niggling injuries, Butler made only once appearance after before joining Doncaster Rovers in January.
While United’s failure to reach the Championship was undoubtedly the catalyst for Clough’s departure, senior members of the board are also thought to have been dismayed that funding they regarded as generous by third tier standards was not rewarded with an automatic promotion challenge.
They finished fifth - 20 points behind second placed MK Dons - before being beaten 7-6 on aggregate by Swindon Town. Preston North End subsequently dispatched United’s conquerors 4-0 at Wembley. Clough acknowledged those inconsistencies in a series of interviews before being relieved of his duties.
However, speaking in mitigation, he argued that United’s inability to secure several key targets until midway through the season had inevitably weakened their hand. Clearly, given Monday’s chain of events, that cut little ice with his paymasters who decided a “change of direction” was required. Pointedly, the statement announcing Clough’s departure also thanked six other members of his staff for their “contribution.”
“The club would like to place on record its thanks to Nigel, as well as his backroom staff of Gary Crosby, Andy Garner, Martin Taylor, Simon Clough, Michael Forsyth and Matt Brown,” it read.