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James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Sparky reminds The Blades about the danger of ad hoc planning and could have succeeded here if Chris Wilder had arrived earlier

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He has scored 55 goals in 158 games, averages one every 1.9 starts and is unlikely to command an extravagant fee having entered the final 12 months of his contract.

On paper, especially given he is only 25 years of age, this centre-forward should be exactly the type of player Sheffield United are being linked with in the transfer market.

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill are right to put short, medium and long term plans in place at Bramall Lane: Steve Ellis

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill are right to put short, medium and long term plans in place at Bramall Lane: Steve Ellis

Except Marc McNulty has already spent time at Bramall Lane. And, after failing to be given the chances his performances deserved, is unlikely to view it as somewhere to turbo-charge a career which, after firing Coventry City to promotion, is back on a decidedly upward curve.

Chris Wilder has barely put a foot wrong since taking charge of United. Either on the pitch or in terms of recruitment. So it seems bizarre that the former Livingston centre-forward, who two seasons earlier had been the club’s joint-leading scorer, was allowed to leave on his watch. On closer inspection, there are mitigating factors behind this apparent aberration on the manager’s otherwise impeccable record. Reasons which underline the wisdom of his decision to try and plan for the long-term in this most reactionary of businesses. And remind United, who until Wilder’s arrival seemed to change tact more times than Lady Gaga does her wardrobe, about the danger of ad hoc, impromptu strategies.

In order to highlight them, it is necessary to scroll back to the summer of 2015. Nigel Clough, the man responsible for giving McNulty his big break, had just been sacked after losing a League One play-off semi-final and Nigel Adkins was parachuted in as the former England centre-forward’s replacement. (United’s squad was remodelled and then overhauled yet again when Wilder arrived to awake them from their slumber). This constant upheaval meant McNulty spent the next two campaigns on loan with Portsmouth and Bradford City before being recalled, when his confidence had been affected by injury, and then let go after a predictably uninspiring four months.

What should have happened, not least because he clearly knows how to finish, is that McNulty was handed a development programme with coherent objectives and targets to hit. Mentored by someone like Billy Sharp or Leon Clarke rather than be allowed to make some of the pitfalls which blighted the early part of the latter’s career. If that involved a temporary placement elsewhere, the thinking behind it should have been outlined clearly. Not engineered on the hoof and therefore create the impression that, rather than being refined, he was simply being touted around all and sundry before the inevitable happened.

Marc McNulty celebrates promotion with Coventry City after leaving Sheffield United

Marc McNulty celebrates promotion with Coventry City after leaving Sheffield United

Wilder, who after Adkins’ soporific reign recognised United needed a damn good shake, can be forgiven for overlooking McNulty’s talents. The drift had already started when he was appointed. But those tasked with ultimately deciding the team’s direction, must ask themselves why a player now being tracked by some of their Championship rivals, slipped through the net before being given a proper opportunity to prove himself.

McNulty did not fail at United because of a lack of talent. He was a victim of vicissitude. And whether you think he was made of the right stuff or not, the fact it is impossible to say so with absolute certainty underlines the problems caused by constant shifts in approach.

Marc McNulty was never really given a proper chance at Bramall Lane '�2016 Sport Image all rights reserved

Marc McNulty was never really given a proper chance at Bramall Lane '�2016 Sport Image all rights reserved