Sheffield United: Push up or clear-out

Julian Winter, the new group chief executive of Sheffield United Plc speaks with James Shield at Bramall Lane
Julian Winter, the new group chief executive of Sheffield United Plc speaks with James Shield at Bramall Lane

Sustaining a promotion push will have a “huge” bearing on Sheffield United keeping their best players, says Bramall Lane’s new chief executive Julian Winter.

That is the extra incentive for manager Danny Wilson to keep his team at the top of League One, knowing it will help him negotiate the precarious January transfer window.

But one-time Blades player Winter, speaking for the first time since taking a key role in the club, also admits that more cutbacks in the players’ wage bill have to be part of restructuring the club.

Can he guarantee that the big-earning stars who have underpinned the climb to the top will stay for the duration? “There’s no way on earth I can do that,” Winter told the Telegraph, embracing the honesty and openness that have become watchwords for the club in their dealings with supporters.

Will the team’s position at the time have a bearing, though? “Hugely,” he insists. “One of the objectives is to get promoted.”

Another, of course, is what Winter calls “sustainability.” No-one around Bramall Lane, and that now includes most supporters, can be in any doubt that the current salary load is not sustainable for League One.

It is marrying the two requirements - helping Wilson achieve success while conforming with new wage/turnover restrictions in football - that will throw up the new man’s biggest challenge. And he takes personal responsibility for it, saying: “The buck will stop with me on contracts.

“When you look at the top level of the game it is amazing, frankly. Everyone can stand back and say that clubs are paying players far too much, pure and simple.

“But UEFA’s fair play regulations for clubs in European competition will permeate down. League Two has acted and League One is following suit. Hopefully this will get the game in order and stop it from eating itself.”

Winter, who previously held a similar role with Watford, will work closely with manager Wilson on transfers. He added: “It’s about balance and about being objective when there is a decision to make. Every decision has to be made on its merits at the time.

“The objectives can quite often contradict each other. But balance will dictate the way forward. My relationship with Danny will have to be very close.

“We’ve met a few times already and we will have regular dialogue. It’s pivotal that we are on the same page.

“The owner (Kevin McCabe) has set the direction of travel and a sustainable

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Sheffield United is the core of that. The manager was recruited on that basis. He understood that when he came in and is under no illusions.”

Wilson has spoken about the dangers of clubs being attracted to players he wants to keep - Stephen Quinn and Nick Montgomery being prime examples - by a continuing run of good results. But there must be upwards of half-a-dozen players on what would be regarded as good Championship wages at Bramall Lane and the signs are that some of those on the fringe may be offloaded.

Winter is convinced that Wilson’s expertise will cover any shortfalls while making financial inroads at the same time. That’s a hard task for the manager, too, but it is clear that more good results will help his cause as the Blades head for third-bottom Wycombe on Saturday.

Another plus is that United are prioritising the playing side after the McCabe family were accused of creating a distraction with the development of global enterprises including the ownership of foreign teams.

Winter is charged with pulling all the strands together. He said: “Let’s be under no illusions, the pivotal part of my job is the football club. But the potential of the group as a whole is huge and that should not be ignored.

“So many pieces have been completed - the stadium, the hotel and business centre. There is great potential in these. But, yes, the football club is the central piece.”

And he feels it is for his business qualities rather than his football background - he played for United and Huddersfield and had a community role at Sheffield Wednesday after being forced to retire at 27 - that he has been recruited.

Winter, who has an honours degree in recreation management, said: “Although my roots are in playing, my professional life is in football administration.”

One clever strategic move is that United have appointed a senior administrator in Carl Sheiber as the front man for negotiations with players and agents. Chief executives can often get caught in the crossfire of emotive issues, meaning Winter will stay one step removed while dictating policy.