Column: This is what needs to be done
The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein at least, is 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.'
Theoretical physics rather than football was the Nobel Prize winner’s strength. But, as the annual call for sweeping changes begins to once more reverberate around Bramall Lane, Sheffield United would do well to remember his famous quote.
Because change - and not just in the bootroom - is something the League One club has, in recent years, been far to keen to embrace. Particularly the wrong, expensive and ultimately deleterious sort.
Nevertheless, as they prepare to enter tomorrow’s game against Doncaster Rovers ranked 11th in the table, Bramall Lane’s hierarchy must accept that some adjustments are required.
Earlier this week, having recently achieved a century of United appearances, George Long insisted he was now a “completely different” goalkeeper to the one who made his debut at Swansea City nearly six years ago. The youngster has played under six different managers since progressing through United’s youth system. Or, to put it another way, welcomed a new one every 16.67 games.
Even more concerning than that turnover is the contrasting style every fresh appointment seems to bring. From the yeomanlike approach of Micky Adams to the more subtle methods of Danny Wilson to the scientific complexity of David Weir. Oh, and following two experiments with Chris Morgan, then back to the pragmatism of Nigel Clough before, (pausing for a deep breath), deciding Nigel Adkins’ swashbuckling tactics are actually the best way forward. Little wonder the squad is a mish-mash of talented but diverse individuals rather than a team in the true sense of the word.
All, including the latter, have struggled to fulfil United’s potential and yet all are accomplished professionals. So at what point does it dawn on people that the problem might not rest with whoever is in charge but, actually, is much more ingrained than that? The only change United need to effect is systemic. Decide what they want to be and, come what may, stick to it. Establish permanent scouting, recruitment and administrative systems which remain in place regardless of who is at the helm. Not alter depending on which modus-operandi or individual happens to be in vogue at the time. Ensure Adkins and his eventual successors bend to fit them not the other way around.
Yes, there are improvements which can be made right now that might lead to more consistently positive results. Including, as far as this column is concerned, not allowing opponents to impose their will during the opening exchanges of fixtures, showing greater aggression and getting more out of flair players such as Jose Baxter and Jamal Campbell-Ryce.
There are some very capable people working for United across all of its departments. Within the first team coaching structure, the financial hub and, owners included, on the board. But muddled thinking inevitably produces muddled results. And United, at senior level at least, are in a bit of a muddle right now.
They do not need to look far for inspiration or an example of what well-defined strategies can achieve. They have been employed by staff working at the Steelphalt Academy since the critically acclaimed centre for youth development first opened its doors in 2002. Kyle Walker, Stephen Quinn, Harry Maguire, Long, Callum McFadzean, Diego De Girolamo, Louis Reed and Kyle Naughton are among those capped by their respective countries at various levels both before and after graduating. Yes, they can be ruthless when required as the recent cull of several home-grown players operating in the Professional Development League shows. (A decision taken in order to create a pathway for some promising youngsters further down the system). But those in charge of overseeing United’s youth policy balance that with a caring, attentive touch.
Greater clarity of thought and direction would give Adkins and the institution as a whole, the best chance to succeed. Give those sharp minds within it more opportunity to flourish and show their skills.