James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Clough reduces the risk

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Monday’s announcement that Chris Porter and Ben Davies are staying at Bramall Lane next term is unlikely to have raised too many eyebrows among Sheffield United’s support.

After all, the dust had barely settled on the 2013/14 campaign when manager Nigel Clough revealed he wanted them to remain at his disposal.

But confirmation earlier this week that they had both accepted new one year deals does, coupled with the recent arrival of Marc McNulty, Chris Basham, Andy Butler and Jamal Campbell-Ryce sheds further light on the methods Clough and members of the League One club’s hierarchy are employing to try and ensure its footballing operations are in rude health not only during the forthcoming season but also beyond.

Butler, who was officially introduced to the region’s media on Tuesday, is under contract until 2016. Likewise Campbell-Ryce while McNulty and Basham are the subjects of three year agreements.

Which, as had not always been the case in the not so distant past, means that United’s board of directors will not be forced to negotiate with vast swathes of the squad all at once.

A seemingly insignificant detail but, on closer inspection, shrewd, astute work.

Likewise the decision to retain the services of Porter and Davies whose versatility in particular should prove worth its weight in gold given Clough’s desire to work with a small but select group. Graduates of the Redtooth Academy will, quite rightly, be asked to plug the gaps as and when required.

Asked to compare and contrast life under Clough with the previous regime and those United players who experienced both inevitably reference the upturn in results (winning 54 per cent of their fixtures as opposed to eight per cent) before talk turns to the atmosphere behind the scenes.

The two, at first glance, are inextricably linked. However, probe a little deeper and many will reference how the cracks in team spirit which appeared during the period leading up to his appointment in October were repaired long before United embarked upon a run of 10 straight victories. Chris Morgan’s work as caretaker also made a significant contribution to this process.

So, the presence of Porter and Davies should ensure the chemistry which lifted United from 21st to seventh in the table and, remarkably, catapulted them into the FA Cup semi-finals, is still intact when competition resumes on August 9.

Porter, who probably divides opinion like no other in the red and white half of the Steel City, is also a footballing enigma. A player with the courage to score vital goals against the likes of Colchester, Fulham and Nottingham Forest en route to May’s meeting with Hull City at Wembley but, as he inadvertently acknowledged earlier this week, acutely sensitive to how he is perceived on the terraces.

“There’s a massive difference with the fans as well,” the former Motherwell, Bury and Derby County centre-forward said. “Towards the end (of last season) there were a lot of jokes flying around about me going to the World Cup in Brazil and stuff like that.

“It was all good banter and, to be honest, it made me feel a lot more wanted and was a big help with regards to confidence.”

What is indisputable, though, is that he performs best when the whip is cracked which, given his desire to stay with United beyond the terms of his present contract, suggests handing him a 12 month deal could well prove a masterstroke. Some of Porter’s best performances have come in times of adversity as his commanding display against Swindon Town during Morgan’s debut spell in temporary charge or when recalled to the team by Clough after being loaned out by predecessor David Weir, proved.

The 48-year-old, who made Porter his first signing for County, knows what makes this gifted but often frustrating marksman tick. So, by keeping the pressure on by opting to review his future next summer, he has ensured Porter will not be granted an opportunity to step off the gas.

Having also worked with Davies at the iPro Stadium, this is another piece of business which has seen United reduce the element of risk associated with every venture into the transfer market.

No bad thing when one considers the constraints of Salary Cost Management Protocol which prohibits clubs in the third tier from spending more than 60 per cent of their total turnover on wages.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1