Reasons to be Cheerful - Part 2
It took just shy of nine weeks to get here, five weeks to the day since the Blades fell in the play-offs at Huish Park. But at last I think Blades fans have reasons for optimism. Reasons, dare I say it, to be cheerful.
When the season drew to a close with a limp and lifeless performance in Yeovil, thoughts firmly focused on who would be named Danny Wilson's permanent successor. Writing at the time I said;
"Too often as a club we look to the past. We think a manager has to know about United, as if we are something special show passion for the club in order to impress the fans. Let's move away from this thinking. Let's have a manger who can look at the playing squad with fresh eyes and free of the constraints of saying the right thing to please the supporters."
On paper we seem to have that man. At times over the last few weeks many have commented on the dearth of quality candidates listed by the bookmakers. We have had several names surge to be favourite on the back of a bit of money put their way, often based on the "in the know" of internet forum rumours. Many of those listed have had that Blades link somewhere in there. Of those that hadn't, few ticked the box. (Okay - the pedantic could argue that Weir has a Blades past, although a pre-season trial the season before last hardly constitutes a substantial history with the club)
The disparity of opinions on all candidates demonstrated that the fan-base had a broad range of opinions on who should be manager and the qualities and experience required. For every supporter of a candidate you could find a detractor and in a lot of cases each made valid arguments to support their case.
The relative silence emanating from Bramall Lane in the period could be viewed positively, after all the club has kept its counsel and left the media playing the same guessing game, latching on to the same rumours and sources as the fans. They could validly claim that they took their time to find the man who fits their profile. Yet, it would be interesting to know if weir was one of the 20+ quality applicants, or one of the original shortlist of seven.
Whatever you think of Graham Arnold and his comments on the process, I can't help feeling that there are some concerns for Blades fans within his comments. He had no need to run to the press, in fact doing so would surely create bigger problems for him; both with McCabe family links to Central Coast Mariners and as a word of warning to other potential suitors. To then do so in such vehemently ferocious terms suggests more than just minor issues at play. There is no smoke without fire.
Even with the bits of the process that did reach the press, such as Stuart McCall's involvement and withdrawal, you can't help feeling United have stumbled through the recruitment process, but in the end have dropped on with a candidate becoming available, perhaps after rejection at Goodison Park?
So after the long wait, have we got the right man?
Well Weir does seem to have United the fans onside straight away. Whether there is an element of that being relative happiness when he is compared with other candidates and relief that names recently bandied around by the press are not the preferred choice, who knows? It is possible. At one point earlier in the process, two names in the frame led me to tweet that expressing a preference was similar to being asked which STD would you prefer to have?
However, I think that there is a genuine warmth and optimism about Weir's arrival, and one that I share. He lacks experience of management, in our current situation that might have been preferable, but has all his coaching qualifications and a wealth of playing experience in both top level club football and at international level.
To be fair to our board it is also worth remembering that Julian Winter appointed Brendan Rogers and Malky Mackay at Watford; both being given their first jobs in management by United's returning Chief Executive. It is fair to say that is a decent track record when it comes to identifying young managerial talent and giving them a chance. The fact that Winter steered the then troubled Hornets through a treacherous financial period - including brushes with administration - should also be considered, especially given the financial down-sizing being undertaken at Bramall Lane.
Weir is well-respected by both those who he has played for and those he has played with. Comments on twitter from fellow pros and fans of Everton, Rangers and Hearts talk of a focused leader, a hard-working role model, a player who led by example. A man who, since finishing his playing career, has sought to expand his coaching knowledge and capabilities, spending time with clubs overseas.
A Rangers fan I know was reminiscing over email with me today and told me of the time the Rangers fan group the Blue Order held up 11 cardboard cut outs of the torso of their favourite defender and burst into a rendition of "We all dream of a team of Davie Weirs". There are times recently when United could have done far worse than that themselves. If Weir can build a squad in his image, with his work-rate, commitment and quality we won't go far wrong.
Many will now say that the club's patience has been rewarded, that the lengthy process was worthwhile. No-one will truly know what has happened behind the scenes over the last nine weeks. I had a tongue in cheek guess at it here. But the fact remains that after such a long selection process whoever became manager will start the season with a difficult task, now made slightly harder. I am sure he would have wanted more input into pre-season preparation, I am sure he would have wanted the opportunity to think longer about which players he wants to keep and not, to allow as much time as possible to move players on, allowing him more freedom to bring on the players he wants to be part of a United future.
Yet Weir knows all this and he has decided that this will be his first managerial challenge. He has been given a three year contract for a reason and the patience I have referred to previously will be important. I don't see a quick fix promotion for United next season and in the short term it could well be a bumpy ride. Weir will struggle to make significant changes to a squad, with only a small transfer kitty and with some players - who many fans consider "deadwood" - remaining under contract; reasonably lucrative contracts for League One as well.
Blades fans have been looking for signs of positivity for some time now. This is a small one, but in time it could be so much more. And that is the key, it just might need that time.