When sizeable clubs like Sheffield United are relegated, particularly to the third tier, it’s common to hear talk of a financial crisis and even going into administration. Your club is different in that regard. I don’t know if that is any consolation. . .
Sheffield United can draw consolation from it; I’m not sure I can. I’m the person who’s got to ensure we don’t have a financial crisis. Playing in League One does mean cost-cutting. I’ve got to do whatever it takes. I’d love to believe we can sell three or four players and I don’t have to contribute. We don’t have any bank borrowings, but the reality is that if push comes to shove I’ve got to make sure the club is properly funded. We could get offers for players. But I’m not going to bank on anything.
Are you saying, though, that there won’t be any serious repercussions if you don’t get offers?
As you’ve acknowledged, history shows that it can be difficult to offload players on good contracts because only a limited number of clubs could afford them. Sheffield United put these players on those contracts. Any regrets about that?
Partly. If I could turn back the clock, I would. Ambition has been my weak spot - permitting managers to sign too many players. It’s the wage bill that demonstrates ambition. There has been foolhardly investment in players which has not worked for us. I’m the foolhardy one for putting in the money. I should not have permitted it. In particular, I’m talking about the £6.5m spent on loan players over the last two-and-a-half years.
What about criticism over the sale of players, though. You evidently had no choice over James Beattie, but any regrets about others?
Rob Hulse. We should never have sold him. He’s the best centre-forward we’ve never had. It was a mistake. Rob was also a top-class pro and we’ve missed him.
Jon Stead, maybe.
What about the two Kyles, Naughton and Walker? You got good fees for them from Tottenham at a young stage of their development, but any regrets there?
I wish they were still with us. You don’t want to sell players like them but once an approach comes, you can’t keep them. If you’re a player and you’re offered 10 times more in wages then it’s human nature that you take it.
The radical mistake has been having too many loans and neglecting some of our own players coming through.
What is the future of Sheffield United’s global enterprises, the ownership of clubs abroad. Will relegation impact on that?
No, it shouldn’t impact. The one thing I’m looking for - and here I do blame colleagues - is that we should be using those connections and haven’t been using them enough. At the moment, we’ve just got one Australian and one Hungarian across here.
Don’t forget that Matthew Lowton was made for us at Ferencvaros. The old regime kicked him out and he went there. It’s a natural stomping ground. Thank God we’ve got him back. Every kid wants to play in England. I still think we should look at sending one or two of our kids to Ferencvaros. They learn about life as well as football. But Matt was kicked out and we got it wrong. How many others have there been like that?
Economics dictate on the wage bill (currently £12m) and you are not putting a figure on how much it has to be reduced. But it seems that you will have one of the biggest wage bills in League One next season. Is that right?
I’m damn sure it will be the biggest in League One. That will be the case come what may.
As a lifelong fan, how distressing has relegation been for you personally?
I’m ashamed. In the last six weeks, with the inevitable on the way, I could have gone home and kicked the cat. Thankfully, I don’t have a cat. And I can’t kick my wife because she’d kick me back!
Yes, it’s gone wrong and I hold my hands up. I can’t believe what’s happened. But I can tell you that it won’t re-occur.
On the question of investment, are you looking for a partner or for someone to take over lock, stock and barrel?
It doesn’t happen that way. We’re not Manchester City. Unless things change overnight, the chances of finding investors in League One are remote. We will continue to look but I don’t believe the club should be owned by one individual.
But in the meantime, you are the one individual keeping it going. . .
Yes, and I want some good times back.
Finally, what about the way the fans have taken relegation. There wasn’t one protest aimed at any individual after the last home game against Barnsley. How much do you appreciate that - and did it surprise you?
Yes, it did surprise me, having had confrontations in years gone by. But I think most fans have recognised what’s happened to us and why - particularly losing players like Paddy Kenny (poached by QPR), Chris Morgan and Darius Henderson. The disappointment is also balanced by the success of the Under-18s in reaching the final of the FA Youth Cup. We have a confirmed attendance of at least 16,000 for the first leg against Manchester United next Tuesday - and we’ve sold over 10,000 season tickets for next season.
I think our supporters can see that we’re going to sort ourselves out quickly. And that we are aiming high again quickly.