Last July, I wrote a piece about Sheffield United – a side which had capitalised on Leeds United’s Championship collapse to gain an automatic promotion spot back to the Premier League for the first time since 2007.
Writer: Adam Jones
After their major success this so far this season, currently sitting in a position that would gain them entry to Europe, this is the time to go back and reflect on that article I wrote.
“Even though Sheffield United have made a number of new signings already, the club needs to recruit more players with Premier League experience if they are to ensure that they remain above the relegation zone in the 2019/20 season.”
The only other major signing that the Blades made in the summer window after my piece was published was Oliver McBurnie, a fee that was rumoured to be in the region of £20m. Although the Scottish striker is a top class player, I really did fear for Chris Wilder’s side because of the lack of Premier League experience in the side.
After seeing Reading struggle in the 2012/13 season in the Premier League through a lack of top flight experience in their squad, I thought the Blades would suffer the same fate. After failing to survive in the top tier last time out under Neil Warnock in 2007, Sheffield United really had to make their presence felt. They have certainly done that this season.
“Although the signings from the Championship will excite fans, that leaves just Phil Jagielka and Ravel Morrison who have played a decent amount of football in the top-flight, Jagielka especially. Jagielka, who has played for Sheffield United before, is now 36. Considering his age, this signing looks like a short-term solution.”
There’s no doubt that Chris Wilder added quality to the side last summer and had built a team that would no doubt rip the Championship apart. My concern was whether they had the quality in their squad to be competitive in the Premier League.
Ravel Morrison has had off-field problems over the years but there must be a reason why Sir Alex Ferguson rated him so highly at Manchester United. I think I may have also underestimated the impact that Phil Jagielka may have had in the dressing room. The former Everton centre-back was a popular figure at Bramall Lane under Neil Warnock over a decade ago and has appeared for England at a senior level many times.
“Chris Wilder may benefit from using the loan market to recruit other players ahead of the PL season. Ethan Ampadu is just one of those players who is very likely to go out on loan, whether that’s in the Premier League or Championship. Optional loan to buy purchases could also work in the Blades’ favour. This means that the club would not have to purchase these players permanently if they are relegated back to the Championship. Decisions like this will also be important for Financial Fair Play rules, which has had an impact on several clubs including Birmingham City, who had a points deduction in the Championship last season for breaking these rules.”
Owners have a major decision to make when their team gets promoted to the top flight. Do they invest heavily in an attempt to establish themselves as a solid Premier League side or do they hold back and mitigate any financial damage that could be sustained through possible relegation straight back to the Championship?
The top tier of English football is the dreamland financially for owners. Lucrative television and sponsorship deals await those who gain promotion. As Sheffield United and Chris Wilder will know, the Championship is such a hard league to get out of. There’s also no guarantee that the Blades would have been competing for promotion again the following season if they were relegated. Look at the likes of Huddersfield Town and Stoke City.
On top of this, Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers have both suffered back-to-back relegations in the 21st century. That is why investing huge amounts of money is not always a good idea. Having a Premier League-sized wage bill in the Championship, let alone League One, can cause those sides to go through considerable financial hardship.
Fair play to Sheffield United though, they don’t even have to think about this at the moment. They may also have the incentive of playing in Europe next season as well.
“After watching Reading getting relegated from the top-flight in 2013, I know how important it is that Sheffield United buy the right calibre of players which will give them the ability to stay up in the league.”
This season’s Sheffield United remind me of 2006/07 Reading, but better. Reading finished eighth that season, even though they did not spend a lot of money. A warning for the Blades is that the Royals were relegated at the end of the following season. Expectations will be higher next season, they may have the distraction of playing European football and other top flight sides will be more wary of the real threat that Wilder’s side pose.
Now is the time for Sheffield United to invest heavily. Quality and quantity will both be important for the Blades if they play in Europe and squad depth must be one of the first issues that Wilder has to address.
However, I am willing to admit that my prediction for Sheffield United’s season was a stinker. There are no other words for it! Congratulations to Chris Wilder, the players and the supporters. You have reminded us that team spirit is still a vital factor at any professional football club, amid wild spending from a lot of other teams across the top two divisions in England.