Results are everything in football but, as events over the past four weeks have demonstrated, perception is becoming equally important too.
Stoke City supporters whip themselves into a state of orgasmic frenzy after directors at the Britannia Stadium spent nearly £20m on a player most had probably never heard of before Monday’s transfer deadline. Meanwhile, 40 miles away in South Yorkshire, many of Sheffield United’s reach for the nearest Leonard Cohen CD after their board parted company with exactly zilch. Yet, is it necessarily true that one is more ambitious than the other? Or simply over-zealous perhaps? Only time will tell. But things, particularly when it comes to the beautiful game, where undisclosed fees and confidential contractual clauses abound, are seldom as clear-cut as they seem.
Now, this column isn’t intended as a sop to United’s hierarchy. Having publicly stated its desire to make “a couple” of new additions before the window closed, Bramall Lane’s latest recruitment drive was obviously a failure and raises questions about the feasibility of the targets identified and pursued. But, in another sense, the fact United refused to make a vanity purchase to avert the inevitable furore when their negotiations stalled, is a sign of progress. Granted, not the type they were hoping for. But progress nonetheless.
United unveiled five players during last year’s January window. And 11 the window before that. Numbers which, despite the fact Nigel Adkins’ predecessors had their reasons, suggest a haphazard rather than strategic approach. Not to mention, with many of those additions understood to be enjoying significant salaries or later being paid handsomely to leave, answers that perennial question: ‘Where’s the money gone?’ To paraphrase Eppie Lederer, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance instead. At least one member of United’s squad since their relegation from the Championship six seasons ago pocketed around £1m a year. Back of a fag packet maths, taking average attendances into account, suggest that equates to the gate receipts generated by nearly 10 per cent of their home league fixtures. Assuming, even, that every spectator was in possession of a full price adult ticket. A phenomenal amount.
United must invest more money if they want to be successful. But money only guarantees success if it is wisely and sensibly spent.