Alan Biggs at Large: Sheffield United must invest to maintain upward momentum
Chris Wilder secure for now, ownership battle finally over. The main planks of Sheffield United’s Premier League platform are in place.
It’s now about not falling between the cracks and you don’t have to be an expert at reading between the lines to interpret the manager’s act of faith in return for his commitment.
Wilder made it clearly knowing that the powerful kick-on he craves cannot happen in this transfer window.
“But going forward, you have to understand we have to invest in the team,” he told me this week. “And if it’s not in this window we have to look to the summer ... we have to keep improving. The players have to and I have to.”
That’s the challenge also facing the Saudi ownership group led by Prince Abdullah following legal confirmation of their ownership entitlement, only pending completion of an agreed property transaction with Kevin McCabe.
Not that Wilder is ungrateful for their personal support or the backing he is receiving, to their means, in this window.
The reality of progression from seventh in the Premier League, after an heroically narrow home defeat to what he dubbed a “billion pound” Manchester City, is merely stating facts about what has been achieved on a bottom budget.
It doesn’t mean he’s thrown the towel in on eking out more progress from shrewdness over clout.
“There’s an art and a skill to building a squad and it’s not all about spending £5m to £10m on a player,” said Wilder, revealing latest signing Jack Robinson cost “under £1m.”
Maybe that was also an admission United couldn’t go to that top figure in this window, as previously surmised in this column.
But Wilder added: “The fee we paid for Jack Robinson I believe is a real good bit of business. I’ll never turn away from that. Maybe some other people might. I’m not going to because he’ll make us better and give genuine competition for Jack O’Connell.”
Worryingly, United previously had no real alternatives to O’Connell and Chris Basham, who are intrinsic to their innovative style. Now, with Robinson joining Jack Rodwell, they have right and left alternatives as attacking centre backs.
Other business may follow and it should not be overlooked that Wilder has been prepared to wheel and deal in the past - as in the surprise sale of Lee Evans facilitating Ollie Norwood early last season.
His cards in that respect are understandably close to his chest beneath a party line of no bids being received or welcomed, including for the much coveted Luke Freeman, a summer capture on the fringe despite showing well when required.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some unexpected business surfaced should the amounts be right.
But in the longer term there has to be some upping of the ante if United are to maintain their upward momentum.