Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Window of Opportunity and Change

c A United View
With the January transfer window approaching it is clear that Nigel Clough will be busy, with players leaving Bramall Lane likely to exceed those incoming. A squad with quantity exceeding quality needs to be trimmed. I thought it would be worth offering my two penn'orth on who to keep and who we should look to move on, recognising that some of the departures may be delayed until the Summer when a more drastic re-shaping will probably take place.

Alongside this I have run a poll asking Blades fans for their opinions (you can fill it in HERE) and I will post the results after I have reviewed the squad, player by player. This post will develop over the next few days as I review each area of the squad in turn.


George Long - contracted until June 2016 (Keep):

A talented goalkeeper and great  shot stopper, but frailties in decision making, a lack of domination of his area and a failure to deal with crosses have again come to the fore. In addition he has developed a tendency to parry rather than make a caught save, although this seems to be an increasingly visible phenomenon in the modern game.

Easy to forget he is still only 20 and very few goalkeepers have over 60 first team starts at this age. You could argue that learning whilst firmly in the spotlight is the best way to learn, but also the most difficult, especially in a side performing below expectations and with little confidence for much of the season.

I am confident Long will develop into a good keeper, but equally could do with a rest to relieve the pressure now and again.

Mark Howard - Contracted until June 2014 (Keep, but revisit in Summer):

A steady and largely able deputy, but I am not sure I'd be comfortable if he had a prolonged run in the side. I think we need a keeper we would be comfortable playing if Long was injured or suffered a continuing lack of form. At present I can't help feeling we would look to the loan market.

George Willis - under contract until June 2015 (Keep, but look to loan out):

Considered a better prospect than Long by some and having gained England youth recognition, the key is how we best develop this natural talent.

Lower league and non-league clubs will be reluctant to take on and play a young keeper, preferring the many experienced keepers freely available.
Tony McMahon - contracted until June 2014  (Keep, but revisit in Summer):

Whilst his free kicks bring hope of a goal, they aren't frequent enough to mask his defensive frailties, particularly when up against a direct left winger with pace.

Too often guilty of playing the man and not the ball, he has been caught out positionally and been out thought and out run by average League 1 wide men.

Capable of much more than he is currently delivering. 

Darryl Westlake - contracted until June 2014 with option of further year (January departure):

Looks lightweight for a defensive player and with limited runs in the side, he has had little opportunity to build his seemingly brittle confidence. 

Had gone downhill after a promising start to his career at Walsall and I have seen little in his time at Bramall Lane to suggest we will see any further promise, never mind fulfilment of it. With McMahon seemingly untouchable at left back despite his frailties Westlake is not required. McMahon's recent suspension was covered by a change of formation and Ryan Flynn in a wing back role.

Currently out on loan at Mansfield Town and I suspect he will remain there or on loan elsewhere from January onwards. Ideally we should be looking to create an opportunity to move him on permanently.

Marcus Williams - contracted until June 2014 (January departure): 

Another awful player. Neither left back or left winger, he is a defensive mistake waiting to happen. The fact he was given a contract extension - along with Porter and Doyle - in the Summer of 2012, shows the limited squad size and budget we intended working with and a fair degree of panic by club management at that time.

The fact he is now not getting in the Scunthorpe side says a lot. I would be making him immediately available in January and potentially paying up his contract to facilitate a move. 

Matt Hill - contracted until June 2014 (Keep and review in the Summer):

A much derided figure. Hill always guarantees you 100% effort, but often that alone is not enough.

Too slow and uncomfortable on the ball to play the kind of attacking full back role required by Clough, Hill has looked much better at centre back and it could be argued has been unlucky to lose his place after ably deputising for Collins and Maguire. A good squad player, Hill provides useful cover. I just don't see him starting.

Harry Maguire - contracted until June 2015 (Keep):

A lynch pin of a defence that has gone from one of the best defensive records in Europe to letting in more than a goal a game on average.

Maguire showed much promise in the FA Youth Cup winning team of 2011. He is still a reasonably solid defender of at least Championship level, but his lack of pace will stop him developing a career at the very top level.

Mistakes have been more prominent this season and a lack of a commanding voice amongst back four and keeper has become an issue. When mistakes are made Maguire rarely has the pace to recover,  although the timing of his tackling can compensate.

In some ways he would benefit from a rest, but aside from Hill we have had no centre back cover to allow for it. 

Neill Collins - contracted until June 2015 but with option of further year (Keep and review in the Summer):

One of the few left from the team that took us down to the third tier and has looked much more at home at this level, forming a rock steady partnership with Maguire, until this season.

Quite whether you can pin the blame on Collins for defensive frailties is open to debate, you could look across the whole back four in all honesty, but we desperately need a vocal organiser at the back. If you were to have a defender make way then it would be Collins.

For now he should remain, however it would do United the world of good to lose the remaining players who set us on this downward slide.

Terry Kennedy - contracted until June 2014 (Keep, but look to loan out):

A hugely promising player in the FA Youth Cup squad of  2010 and was being talked of as a prospect before fans were aware of his central defensive partner Maguire.

There has always been concern about his lack of height and a series of injury problems have made it difficult for him to make that breakthrough. A single appearance away at Doncaster last season has been his only start, although he has made the bench in recent weeks under Nigel Clough. Would really benefit from first team starts and may have to go out on loan to achieve this.

Aaron Barry - contracted until June 2014 (January departure):

Never made a breakthrough after being signed in his late teens. If ever there has been an opportunity for a promising left back, it has been at United in recent seasons. The fact he has not been given a chance perhaps says everything.

Barry has been a regular in the Dumbarton side since moving on loan at the start of the season and may benefit from a move where this momentum and a stable start to his career can be made.

Sean McGinty - contracted until June 2015 (Keep and review in the Summer):

A promising Manchester United youngster who did much to squander his opportunities after falling out with Alex Ferguson and then displaying behavioural issues whilst on loan at Carlisle.

Another of Weir's signings the Irishman has shown little in a handful of league and cup appearances. With severe deficiencies at left back, it may be worth retaining him until the Summer, pending Clough's transfer window signings.

Jasper Johns - contracted until June 2014 (January departure):

In a squad over-burdened with inadequate left backs Johns was picked up by David Weir, who had worked with him at Everton. Nowhere near threatening the first team, despite appearing briefly under Weir, I see no point in keeping him and blocking the development of home-grown youngsters. He may well see his short term contract out, but why not clear the decks now?

Aidy White - returned to Leeds after loan (Would not re-sign):

One of Nigel Clough's first moves was to bring in Aidy White on loan from Leeds.  Utilised in both left back and a more advanced left sided position, I saw little that suggested we should look to retain his services in January.

His much vaunted pace was not apparent and he often ran into trouble pressing forward. Defensively he was suspect and I cannot help thinking there are better options out there.

Nigel Clough has different opinion and his comments after White went off injured in his final game versus Oldham suggests he will look to take White back, if a deal can be agreed post-injury. My worry with this is that it says quite a bit about the type of player Nigel Clough values. I hope that I am wrong.


Michael Doyle - under contract until June 2015 (Keep and review in the Summer)

I have made my views on the leadership of the club captain known before. There is little point in going over old ground, you can read my thoughts on that here.

Whilst I accept there will always be water carriers in a team, the players who do the graft and ball winning and leave the incisive passing and goal threat to others (see, regular under several Blades managers, Nick Montgomery) I do wonder if we could do better than what we have got? A bit more energy, a few more forward passes. I wondered whether Coady might play that role at the start of the season.

Doyle has been picked under the last three managers and has retained the captaincy, most probably in light of a lack of alternative candidates. I see no reason why that won't continue, although I hope that the situation is revisited in the Summer.

I would acknowledge that his performances have picked up at times recently, but you need a dependable and consistent performer in the heart of midfield. Doyle is not that for me.

Stephen McGinn - under contract until June 2015 (Keep)

A player of much promise whose career had been severely disrupted by injury prior to joining United in the Summer.

After a promising opening under David Weir, McGinn disappeared from the first team and struggled to regain a place in the team.

Back in the first team now, it is clear that McGinn is a talented ball player and ought to be a comfortable choice in central midfield. Sadly, he is a little inconsistent in his performances, perhaps a reflection of an interrupted last couple of years, and this needs to change if he is to play a role in turning United's season round.

Connor Coady - on loan until January (renew until end of Summer)

I think there is a player of promise in Coady, however the lack of a decent run in the side and when he has, being played out wide hasn't helped him.

I would like to see more of him, however I cannot see him dislodging Doyle or McGinn from Clough's starting XI. And for that reason we may see him return to Anfield and potentially head elsewhere to a club that will give him game time. That would be a shame, as I think he still has a role to play at United.

Elliott Whitehouse - contract expires June 2014, currently on loan at York City (Keep, but stay out on loan)

Captain of the FA Youth Cup team of 2010, Whitehouse was an energetic box to box midfielder with a fiery temperament. After a promising start in the first team pre-season the Summer before last a problematic and niggling injury kept him out for much of the season.

The loan to York will have done him the world of good and the player himself has recognised the importance of playing first team football at this stage of his career. Feedback from Bramall Lane has been positive and Whitehouse seems keen to remain at Bootham Crescent until the end of the season, playing regular games.

I would like to think Whitehouse could still forge a successful career at Bramall Lane, whether he can is still up for question. The best he can do is stay at York and hope the club are paying attention to his development and progress.

Simon Lappin - on loan from Cardiff City (No renewal of loan deal)

Signed by David Weir and played at left back and in a more advanced left sided role, but was unconvincing in both positions.

A game or two in central midfield demonstrated neat and tidy passing, but he appears nothing more than an average utility man. His wages could be better spent strengthening other areas. However, it appears that Nigel is keen to retain Lappin which I find disappointing.

Jamie Murphy - under contract until June 2016 (Keep)

We are still yet to see the player who excited Blades fans when video clips of his Motherwell goals and skill/capabilities were shared around the internet forums and social media prior to his signing.

Not an orthodox winger, in that he rarely takes on his man, not helped by being played on the opposite side as an inverted winger. When on the ball he often looks to cut inside and playing on the wing allows him to drift out of games, both of which raises fans' ire and causes frustration.

I can't help feeling that he may offer more threat down the middle, but this is a view not shared by those who manage him. Recent performances have seen Murphy's contributions improve and finding the net will only help this continue.

Ryan Flynn - under contract until June 2014 (Keep)

Inconsistent and as frustrating as his fellow Scot Murphy, Flynn is capable of creating chances and contributing to the team's goal tally. We are yet to see it often enough this season.

Away at Scunthorpe in the JPT and given a rare start by David Weir, Flynn did little to enhance his reputation or stake a claim for a shirt. His marker got man of the match, but that was as much to do with the ineffectual Flynn than any great defensive play.

Recent weeks have seen Flynn contribute to the Blades' unbeaten run and he was extremely unfortunate to find himself back on the bench after good performances.

Like Murphy, Flynn should be kept on the basis of what he is capable of, not what he has contributed so far this season.

Febian Brandy - under contract until June 2015 (Keep and review in the Summer)

An enigma. An enigma with disciplinary issues. Some could argue that Brandy is lucky to still have a Blades career after two wholly unnecessary and costly red cards. Under a strict disciplinarian like Nigel Clough it is clear Brandy is on his final warning.

His signing was warmly greeted by Blades fans who remembered his performances against United last season and basked in the anger and frustration Walsall fans displayed at his departure. We have seen little excitement in the performances of a player who should have brought pace, exciting wing play and goals to the team.

For what he could provide the team, he should be retained. But to have any sort of impact on the team he will need to work hard to get that chance.

Florent Cuvelier - under contract until June 2016 (Keep and review in the Summer)

Brief glimpses have shown a technically adept young footballer who perhaps lacks a little brawn to go with the brain.

The question now is where does he fit into Nigel Clough's team. Jose Baxter has claimed the deep lying striker role and Clough clearly prefers others alongside Michael Doyle in the central creative role.

Maybe he will get a chance out wide, probably off the bench, but that seems a waste. It will be an important 6 months for a player trying to launch his career.

Callum McFadzean - (Keep and review in the Summer)

Another FA Youth Cup finalist who made a breakthrough in the first team at the end of last season and contributed a then important goal against Yeovil in the home leg of the play offs.

Sadly, like his brother before him, he found himself in trouble with the police in unsavoury circumstances and risks throwing away his career thanks to a violent streak and sheer stupidity.

A loan move was welcomed, although a move out of the area and away from potential for trouble might have been better. I suspect that his community service contributed to the close locality of the Chesterfield move.

Has been on the bench in recent games for the Spireites. Yet I still think he could offer an option for United if he gets his head straight. He was played at left back for the reserves last season and could offer another option there.


Chris Porter - under contract until June 2014 with option of a further year (Keep, and move on in the Summer)

Strikers are paid to score goals and if judged on that then quite frankly Chris Porter wouldn't be paid in washers. He has averaged a goal every four starts for United, with a further 26 substitute appearances on top.

In his defence you can point to the limited number of chances we have created this season, but that can be as much due to the type of striker and how well they hold the ball up and bring others into play.

Yes he tries hard (and God how do we love a trier) but is slow, barely leaves the ground when jumping for headers, nesh in the tackle, has no natural instinct in the box and has fluffed many more opportunities than he has scored with.

When listed like that it doesn't really compensate for "trying" does it?

However you can see us persevering with him in the squad until the Summer. He linked up well with Shaun Miller in a brief spell prior to the latter's injury last season, but that aside it is desperation that sees him involved. Hopefully January transfer movement will see a first choice striker arrive and that reduces Porter's involvement to back-up. Plenty will defend Porter, but successful sides have one, sometimes two strikers who will score 15-20 goals a season. Unfortunately our current first choice is not capable of that.

Lyle Taylor - under contract until June 2015 (Loan out, review in Summer)

I am disappointed to see Taylor head back North of the border until the end of the season. I can't help feeling he hasn't been afforded the best of opportunities at Bramall Lane. After a bright introduction v Notts County he has been in and out of the side and on and off the bench. We have seen glimpses of what he is capable of and he may well have benefited from playing in a side with more confidence and having a consistent strike partner. Obviously we don't see how he trains and there have been rumours of him being unsettled since the move from Scotland, but he would have at least offered some pace, mobility, direct running at defenders as well as some height up front.

I hope that he finds his form on loan and that he returns to United for pre-season with confidence and a belief that he make an impression next season.

Jose Baxter - under contract until June 2016 (Keep)

On his day our best and most technically gifted player. Injury has interrupted an impressive run in the side, but he is the one player with a bit of imagination who can make us tick, linking midfield and forwards. Sometimes you can see what he is attempting, but others aren't on his wavelength. Still plenty that we are yet to see and he will have a crucial role in how our season pans out.

Shaun Miller - under contract until June 2014, with option of a further year (Keep, review in the Summer)

Returning from such a serious injury was always going to be tough. The fact he was hitting a good run of form prior to the injury only heightened expectations for what he might do on his return. Expectations subsequently enhanced by the sheer desperation of the unexpected position the club finds itself in.

Miller was not match fit, without a pre-season behind him and still doesn't look match sharp. In a way he could do with a loan to a League 2 club. Play games, build fitness and hopefully score goals to build sharpness and confidence. In our current situation that's not going to happen.

The rest afforded by Jose Baxter's inclusion up front versus Tranmere may be beneficial, but could have  equally set him back more as he needs games to find his touch and raise his awareness. Depending on the severity of Baxter's injury against Walsall that chance may well be presented back to him. The next four months will determine whether Miller has a future at Bramall Lane.

Marlon King - under contract until June 2014 (January departure)

I would not have had him near the club in the first place. This isn't a young lad making a mistake, a youthful indiscretion. This is a habitual criminal, with no remorse for increasingly violent and vengeful crimes that tarnishes what is left of the club name.

"Ah, but that will all be forgotten when he scores goals".

One goal, a lot of overweight, unfit huffing and puffing around the football pitch later.....

An awful decision by David Weir, a hugely divisive and risky gamble that has not paid off. Clough clearly determined his stance on him early in his reign and I am glad to see the club trying to agree a deal to get him out of the club as soon as possible. It is only a shame that the deal will have been relatively costly in terms of wage budget, with both salary and a pay-off.

Joe Ironside - under contract until June 2015 (stay out on loan or look to move on)

 A youth loan to Halifax was a good move for the young striker and it may be in the player and club's interests to make this permanent. Ironside did not stand out in the side that were FA Youth Cup finalists and from limited viewing, largely off the bench, I don't see how he offers anything different. I don't see any pace, strength or guile that is required.
He is yet to score a senior goal for United and has scored two goals in ten appearances for Town during his loan spell. I am just not sure if he is up to League One football.

Diego De Girolamo - under contract until October 2015 (Keep)

Said to be close to a return after a long injury lay-off, there was a real buzz around his arrival in the first team squad last season. How much of that buzz was justified is difficult to say, as we saw little of him in first team action before he suffered a knee injury whilst on international duty for Italy Under 18s. As with Shaun Miller, we need to be careful not to place unnecessary pressure and expectation on Diego's shoulders. It will also be interesting to see if/how Nigel Clough accommodates him in his team, which seems at present to have a focus on solid work ethic, rather than flair and unpredictability. 
Final Thoughts
When I first shared this post I had a mixed response. "We don't need a witch-hunt", "This doesn't help the team", "Just get behind them". Yet I found writing this and the debate it has stimulated interesting.
Everyone has a different opinion on our players, some are more vocal about it than others. This isn't about scapegoating players, it is about saying where we need to strengthen and who we move on to facilitate it. At the end of the day we all want the best for United and the bare facts are that we need changes in the playing squad to improve, to reach safety and create a platform for a promotion push next season.
Alongside writing this  I ran a poll of Blades fans to see what action they would take with regards to each member of the squad. The huge diversity of opinion is very apparent in those results, which I will share on here tomorrow. Of course only one man's opinion really matters, Nigel Clough. His actions in the window will tell us a lot about our new manager, what he wants in his squad and what we might expect when more wholesale changes are made in the summer. Things might be a lot clearer when the window is closed.


  1. Barry was pretty solid for us in his lone spell although he was prone to the odd bit of poor decision making. We now only have one centre half in the club so if we could have him or Neill Collins back that would be great ;)

  2. Miller is definitely a keep, for me.