Eighth in the table and four points behind the play-off positions, Sheffield United’s performances both on and off the pitch have come under scrutiny ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Rochdale.
The Star’s James Shield met co-owner Kevin McCabe to discuss the major issues surrounding the League One club’s season earlier this week.
James Shield: What are your thoughts on the season so far?
Kevin McCabe: There are frustrations but our prospects of going up through the play-offs are still good. We wanted to be higher in the table than we are, the manager included. But despite those frustrations, in Nigel Adkins we have a manager who is better qualified than many in recent times, to get us to where we want to be.
JS: So it goes without saying that you understand why supporters are frustrated too?
KM: Yes, of course I do. We are all frustrated with how things have gone. The manager, the owners, the players, the rest of the staff and the fans. We are all frustrated. But we are also working hard to get things right. And we will. I’m a supporter, just the same as them. Albeit a supporter, given my position, with some added responsibilities.
JS: Is your commitment to the football club still strong? Some people interpreted your recent invitation to “level-headed” business people to present their proposals for enhancing United’s work as a suggestion the club is up-for-sale.
KM: The club isn’t up for sale, no. I meant exactly what I said. If there are people out there, working at a local or international level, who have got some good ideas then of course we would be ready to listen. Why wouldn’t we be? It would be foolish to say that we weren’t. My commitment to Sheffield United is still strong. As strong as it ever was. You shouldn’t ready anything between the lines regarding that part of my statement.
JS: And is your fellow owner Prince Abdullah’s commitment still strong? You will probably have heard claims of a split between the board.
KM: Yes it is and, yes, our relationship is good. We are in regular contact and I’m going to see him in Riyadh later this month. It’s not a ‘drama’ meeting as it were. It’s a routine meeting to discuss the type of things you need to discuss at every football club. The prince, like myself and the fans, is disappointed. But his commitment remains.
JS: What is your answer to the question: ‘Where’s the money gone?’
KM: In the main, on new players. Simple. That’s where it’s gone. On too many players, too many transfer fees and too many agency fees paid well above the normal levels. Even those who come in on loan cost money it’s important to remember. There’s usually a loan fee and we also pay a portion of their wages. We’ve installed a DESSO pitch, we’ve refurbished the players’ lounge and many of the other facilities behind the scenes. As owners, we have both put in £8m this season alone. Over the course of my time here, my family have put in something like £90m. It’s ridiculous to say that we are taking money out. When this money goes in, on things like these, it’s not there to be taken out is it. It’s been spent.
JS: But you would have surely expected better returns on those investments?
KM: In general, our player recruitment has been poor. That’s not a comment on individual players. Just, if you look at the situation and the spend, in a general sense. It’s something everyone here is looking to improve and steps are being taken to do that. But it’s not been for want of putting money in.
JS: Has enough been put in though?
KM: We always get charged with his and it’s a nonsense. Going back to 2006, we bought promotion to the Premier League that January. I know. I remember because I signed the cheques. Then, after that, we gave Bryan (Robson) the funds to build a very good squad. After that, we lost Paddy Kenny to a non-footballing matter and supported him all the way through. Darius Henderson was injured, Chris Morgan was injured, all at the start of a season, and that was the spine of the team. We tried to patch it up by spending money. Gary Speed came in after Kevin Blackwell, while we were still in the Championship, and then went to Wales. The first season we came down to League One, we would definitely have gone up if it had not been for losing another player (Ched Evans) to a non-footballing matter. We’ve been in play-off finals and play-offs since, it’s not been for the want of trying. Yes, we have made poor decisions in some areas, as I’ve outlined, but neither have we had any luck.
JS: And what about the accusation Sheffield United allow players to leave, Jamie Murphy included, far too easily?
KM: Unfortunately, if an offer comes in from a higher division then it’s very difficult to keep players if they want to go. Yes, you can say no. But then, what happens is their agent starts agitating, the player himself starts pressing behind the scenes for a move and there’s a danger performance levels start to dip. We might like to think differently but that’s the real world. That’s what we have to deal with. People often assume a level of loyalty, among some players, to their clubs which isn’t always there. The money from Jamie’s sale has been absorbed by wages and recruitment. We have gone through something like 70 player deals in the past few years. That is massive. It’s too many but you can’t have it both ways and say that the ambition isn’t there.
JS: One criticism frequently levelled at Sheffield United is that there is a perceived lack of football experience behind the scenes. Is this the case and, if so, does it represent an obstacle going forward?
KM: Changes are being made to the format of the technical board. Some people have left and there have been reasons for that. We have also employed, at very great expense in the past, people with vast football experience and, for reasons that are difficult to decipher, they have failed to use that experience. But we have plenty of experienced people here now, across all levels of the football club from academy to first team level. We have that experience, including the manager and his coaching staff, and it’s important to acknowledge the work they do.
JS: What challenges do Salary Cost Management Protocol and Financial Fair Play measures present?
KM: This is another reason why it’s ridiculous for people to say there is money going out. I would hazard a guess that we have one of the highest, if not the highest, wage bill in the division. Wigan’s might be higher, I don’t know, but if so, probably not by much. The money that goes in has to be put in as an investment. You can’t take it out. If it was taken out then we would get close to infringing that SCMP threshold wouldn’t we. And remember, this club doesn’t have any bank borrowings.