Monday's announcement of the fixtures, as ever, sent alittle ripple of excitement through me. Like the announcement of pre-seasonfixtures (anyone for a trip to New York………..Stadium?) the fixture announcementis a chance to plot a route through another football season and decide whichaway trips might be a possibility. A weekend in Bournemouth for my birthday?Even the prospect of another, and probably more difficult, season in League Onedid not diminish the excitement.
For as many who shared my tingle of anticipation, there arejust as many naysayers, those for whom the prospect of a first day visit ofShrewsbury only arouses the stale whiff of another end of season failure lessthan a month ago. Or those who point to the distraction of an exciting EuropeanChampionship where there is plenty of on pitch excitement, rather than onscreen lists.
One other reason for the despondency appears to be thesilence emanating from Bramall Lane since the retained lists were announcedfollowing the Play-Off final defeat. With other clubs already making changes toplaying squads, making the signings that might make the required difference, there has been little to reportat Bramall Lane. For many this is not a good thing, however I think we need toreign in a bit of this rampant negativity.
When the silence was broken, with Danny Wilson's interviewson Wednesday the murmurings were hardly positive, but realistically can weexpect anything different?
The Play-OffFinalists' delay
As with any team reaching a play-off final there is a delayin issuing your retained lists and being able to move for targets; in some waysplacing both winners and losers at a slight disadvantage. Whilst I don't doubtUnited had two plans in place, dependent upon outcome, there is still a lag incommencing both negotiations with those out of contract and those that theymight be able to attract. Dilatory responses from the players just exacerbatesthe delay.
If you look at transfers since 24th May, 12 League One teamshave signed players, half of the division. In some cases the transfers havebeen intra-League One so there has been a little merry-go-round between clubsas players move round. Of those clubs signing players, three were promoted fromLeague Two in May and five finished outside the Top 8 last season so may beseen to have a need to change things around. Of the other 4, Doncaster arere-building after a side disrupted by the Willie Mackay experiment last seasonand Notts County and Stevenage are replacing players that have moved on. OnlyCarlisle have made a net addition, excluding the impact of released players.
Of those players that have moved so far, I would have saidthe main one that would have interested me is Scott Laird of Stevenage, butwould we have had the additional pull to tempt him away from his reunion withWestley at Preston? You could argue the three Swindon signings have all hadpotential to be successful, but are they any better than what we have atBramall Lane?
Financial Fair Play
As has been well publicised, the Salary Cost ManagementProtocol means that any League One club spending over 65% of their turnover inthe 2012-13 season, or 60% of their turnover in the 2013-14 season will be hitwith a transfer embargo. Clubs have to provide budgetary information at thestart of the season to the league and this is to be updated as the seasonprogresses.
In the accounts for the year ending 30th June 2011 SheffieldUnited plc paid out total staff costs of £17m on Turnover of £16m. This is not just player salaries; £1mrelates to directors and further amounts will relate to staff costs at theclub, hotel and academy, but it will form a large proportion. Turnover fromongoing activities totalled £14.4m and so,even assuming no fall in turnover (unlikely as the £4.8m of TV revenues will be significantly reduced) thatleaves a wage bill of £9.4m. Realistically, turnover with reduced gates and tv monies will be around £10-11m and a wage bill of around £7m.
We knew that means certain players would be released andplayers still under contract may have to be sold. Bringing players in with suchrestrictions was always going to be difficult. The sale of a squad player likeNick Montgomery will not only bring in a fee, but also release at least £0.5mof the wage bill. Others may have to go to give us room for manoeuvre. To thosesuggesting McCabe should be funding signings and throwing more money at theclub, the SCMP means that this just isn't feasible. It isn't so much the fees that it may cost, although that is no doubt an issue, but the wages cannot feasibly increased.
The only way round it wouldbe some sort of commercial sponsorship deal on overly generous terms,sponsoring a stand or two, or the academy? Increasing turnover and thus allowing monies to be spent on wages. However, given the significant amounts loaned to the club by McCabe and Scarborough companies (a large proportion subsequently converted to equity) and the deterioration of the construction/property industries, this has to be unlikely. People urge him to put money in that would get us out of League One, such gambles have been taken before and that is one of the reasons we are where we are.
The need for change
Of the players released by United, only Steve Simonsen was aregular in the first team last season and we clearly signed Mark Howard fromBlackpool with one eye on Simonsen's contract expiration. Of the elevenreleased, three others have taken a place in the first team squad, but much oftheir contribution has been marred by fitness concerns, long term injury and alack of quality. Obviously, the loss of Ched Evans has left a gaping deficiencyupfront that needs to be filled and this has to be Wilson's priority.
Other moves become dependent upon other player movement.Last season was noticeable for a lack of defensive cover, particularly in themiddle, a lack of proper width and the need for adequate back-up for Evans,which has now become the need for a replacement. We have young players thatJohn Pemberton has already said will be making the step-up into the first teamsquad, but we still need experience in each of those positions. Before addingin these players the squad size is 20, so again I see a few outs to facilitatethe recruits in the key areas.
One noticeable change in United's operations under DannyWilson is a lack of bluster about what we are doing and how we are going aboutit; features that have characterised some of the other managers in our recenthistory. Things are reported or discussed when there is something worthmentioning. We quietly go about our business until there is something concreteto report. What will incessant questioning of whether Lee Williamson or KevinMcDonald have signed actually achieve? It will certainly not influence orhasten their signing.
When I first wrote this I assumed that United and Wilsonmust have a deadline in mind and that we will know the outcome in the fullnessof time. His comments in interviews this week suggests we are awaiting ananswer from them, that our ability to move in the market is in their hands?Some have said they cannot believe Wilson doesn't have a budget. The fact is hehas, but that budget might increase and his priorities change if players leave,or those with offers don't accept. Thus he may have more to spend in certainareas pending other moves. It is a difficult situation for him to be in.
Elements of the Blades support may think that the club arebeing too lax. Having reflected on Wilson's statement I would like us to put adeadline in place so that there is some certainty in terms of requirements andspending power, but we need to believe that whatever the manager and board dois in the best interests of the club.
Two of the three players were key to our season; McDonaldthe midfield fulcrum around which our passing style was fixed, Williamson thesecond top scorer and midfield threat. Of course Wilson would rather haveplayers he knows and trusts rather than having to replace them. There will beinterest from other clubs, maybe their injury records and past misdemeanourswill count against them? We will have to wait and see.
The need forinformation
In today's modern media, where fans crave any brief mentionon Sky Sports News, where they scour the internet for reports linking theirclub to players, where those reportedly "In the know", or who justseek attention, post idle comments about who they have heard is signing, fansare becoming more demanding. Idle gossip, becomes fact, leading to someoneclaiming their best mate's dad has seen player X's car in the Cherry Street carpark, or a petrol station near East Bank Road.
In the mind of many supporters, other clubs signing playerswhen we are not means we are missing out on potential targets. They panic,they're vocal about it, the panic becomes contagious. "We always leave itlate……We never get players in for pre-season….." Yet the true level oftransfer activity set out earlier in this post shows the perception and realityare two separate things.
Danny Wilson says he has already missed out on targets dueto the delays, yet his list of targets could be 20/30 players. Is this reallyreason to panic?
I don't doubt that this will be a much changed United teamcome the 11th August and Burton Albion's first visit to Bramall Lane in theCapital One Cup, but I see little to fear in other teams in League One. We willbe weaker in squad terms than last season and a good League One striker is a priority but,that aside, the three teams coming down are financially restricted in theirability to recruit. Of those that remain in the division I think MK Dons,Brentford, Notts County, Carlisle are those most likely to challenge. Swindonmight well be the team with the momentum coming up.
Where we benefited from dampened expectations last year, relativesuccess is creating a demand for more of the same. Albeit with a slightly moresuccessful outcome required. No-one can say right now that we will not achieveit.
Let's enjoy the Euros and see where we are at as pre-seasoncommences. We came out of a torrid period this time last year, playing goodfootball, winning matches and with a manager who won the fans over. No-onewould have predicted how close we would come to promotion. Let's not be undulynegative this time and wait for something to be properly uptight about. Younever know, it might not arise.