Chris Wilder’s attempt to position Bramall Lane as the most desirable destination for Premier League prospects striving to further their careers represents a departure from the more conservative approach many of his predecessors have adopted in the loan market.
Wilder, who took charge of Sheffield United when Nigel Adkins was sacked last month, cited “big crowds” and “expectation levels” when explaining why top-flight managers should consider dispatching their best youngsters to the League One club next term.
Whereas Adkins primarily targeted established performers, including Dean Hammond and Alex Baptiste, Wilder’s has set his sights on striking temporary agreements with up-and-coming talents after noting how the likes of Ryan Kent and Grant Ward impressed during spells in the Football League last season. Ashley Fletcher also emerged as a driving force behind Barnsley’s promotion winning campaign after arriving from Manchester United.
“I should imagine we are battling it out with Championship clubs as well,” Wilder said.
“That’s the market we are in. But hopefully we will get some good ones in the period. With the lengths of the loans now - and I was always a supporter of the longer loans because the players are in there with you for longer - they won’t come in for a month and play three or four games. They will be ‘our’ players from now until January and can get themselves involved in everything a football club is about in this city.”
Adkins’ enjoyed mixed success in the loan windows.
Middlesbrough defender Baptiste impressed colleagues and commentators alike but Hammond, previously of Leicester City, was declared surplus to requirements by the new regime despite activating a clause entitling him to a 12 month contract.
Wilder’s strategy is more akin to the one adopted by his Coventry counterpart Tony Mowbray. Liverpool’s England youth international Kent and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Ward, most recently of Rotherham, both impressed during spells under Mowbray in Warwickshire.
Wilder, meanwhile, offered Steelphalt Academy graduate Dominic Calvert-Lewin an opportunity at Northampton Town last term.
Although Wilder’s first priority is negotiating permanent deals with at least two centre-halves, his scouts have also been tasked with identifying potential recruits operating at top-flight level but unlikely to be utilised by their parent clubs over the coming months. A
lthough United are yet to unveil Lee Turnbull’s replacement as head of recruitment, talks are known to have taken place with former Chesterfield chief scout Paul Mitchell in recent weeks.
“The Premier League clubs will take a few weeks to assess their options in training and then decide who can go out,” Wilder said. “That’s the way it will work. They won’t be taking any decisions on matters like that right now. It’s something for later in the summer.”