To say trust between Sheffield United’s board and the fanbase has taken a plunge would be something of an understatement.
Last weekend’s events which saw Chris Wilder leave the club, Stephen Bettis bring his mate in to help out, and the squad hammered at Leicester City, left a sour taste in the mouths of even the most optimistic of Blades supporters.
But, cliched as it is, the show must go on and for Sheffield United fans, it’s a show which goes on without a manager who had risen to cult-leader like status among swathes of Unitedites.
Tempers have started to calm in recent days. Most fans probably now accept the decision, whether they agree with it or not. And with that, ultimately, everyone at the club – supporters included – has to move on.
The Blades have a big chance of securing a visit to Wembley. Chelsea stand in United’s way of a remarkable, if unlikely, FA Cup semi-final. The focus, then, should be solely on that game for now.
But we all know that won’t be the case for many Blades. The football is secondary at the moment and the United board, rocked by last weekend’s events, have got to start building the foundations of trust once more.
Talk is cheap
That phrase, ‘talk is cheap’ is one used in many facets of life. But is serves relevance when it comes to Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah. It’s a mantra he has preached whenever we’ve heard him interviewed.
Abdullah claims to back his words up with actions. Indeed, he claimed it was he who funded the move for Oli McBurnie two summers back. He had also openly backed Chris Wilder, both in the market and in terms of his position. But he’s also a man who has his own vision for the club, something which contributed to the debacle we now find ourselves in.
The bitter legal battle which saw Abdullah gain control from Kevin McCabe split fans at the time. But in fairness to the Prince, over time, Blades supporters warmed to the idea that he only had the club’s interests at heart.
He sanctioned a £22m move for Sander Berge just over a year ago. He then backed Wilder to the tune of around £70m this summer just gone. Astronomical fees they were not, but for the Blades, ample investment.
But that goodwill and relationship with what seems like a majority of fans seems to have diminished. And rebuilding that in the coming weeks and months is going to be crucial.
There’s probably not a Sheffield United fan reading this who, at some point, has not uttered the words ‘I just wish we’d show a bit more ambition’. It’s become synonymous with being a Blade, pre and, more than likely, post Wilder.
Prince Abdullah now finds himself at the helm of one the most crucial periods in the club’s history. We won’t ever know the full story of what went on to see Wilder outed from the club. But it’s clear that disagreements were there, whether that be over investment, vision, or structure.
With Wilder in charge, United fans felt comfortable. The captain of a ship which, despite it being a sinking one for now, would rise from the depths next season with its crew fully intact and behind its skipper. Now, with no sign of a new manager as yet or even the hint of a reputable name, Blades fans – quite rightly – are living in fear.
Cards on the table
Despite the mass panic setting in among many United fans, reports this week suggest things may not change that much.
Yorkshire Live claims that the board has no intention of the dreaded ‘fire sale’ which is being predicted. Sander Berge, arguably United’s biggest asset, will not be sold on the cheap. What ‘on the cheap’ means, is open to interpretation.
The board also claim to be fully invested in plans to continue with improving the training ground. In fairness, given the situation around Covid, that’s probably something fans can overlook for the last 12 months but that work must start now, or the club risks losing so much of what Wilder built.
Finally, reports also suggest there will be no director of football overseeing transfers. United’s plan – apparently – remains a common one. Appoint a manager, with an assistant, who work in tandem with a recruitment team already in place.
Time will tell if those three things come to fruition. But if this board has any hope of being given anything but a negative reception when fans hopefully return to Bramall Lane in August, then those promises must be kept.
Sheffield United Football Club is, and always will be, bigger than Chris Wilder. He knows that, he said it himself, and most supporters accept that.
What won’t be accepted is a board ruining the best five years work most of us have seen in our lifetime of supporting the club. Like most Blades, I wait with bated breath to see just what the next few months holds.
Prince Abdullah, Stephen Bettis…it’s over to you.