Sheffield United: Two of the most important points Chris Wilder made ahead of Premier League return were largely overlooked
Amid all the hullabaloo surrounding Sheffield United's return to the top-flight following 12 years away, two of the most important admissions Chris Wilder made got lost among the noise.
Sober analysis, even on the slowest of extremely slow news days, can struggle to capture people's imaginations. So on the eve of a new season, after a summer of multi-million pound deals and shattered transfer records, its chances of resonating were always going to be slim. And slim, as the excitable atmosphere inside Thursday's pre-match briefing reminded, left Planet Premier League a long time ago.
Still, after fielding questions on all manner of subjects, most of which were unrelated to that weekend's meeting with Bournemouth, Wilder did his best to try and cut through the hype by drawing an intriguing comparison.
"They're coaches and teachers," the United manager said, referring to Eddie Howe and his coaching staff. "They like to develop players. Try and improve them. We try and do the same."
Although's Saturday's contest at the Vitality Stadium was not the most glamorous fixture on the calendar, it did showcase how clubs, particularly ones with sensible budgets, can compete against those with seemingly unlimited funds.
Eleven of the players who featured - five for the hosts and six for the visitors - were signed from teams lower down the footballing pyramid. Yet none, as the quality of the football demonstrated, did not look out of place at the highest level.
Now embarking upon their fifth consecutive season at the highest level, Bournemouth have become adept at beating the financial odds in a division where nearly £1.5bn was spent on a acquiring new talent during the recent transfer window. Howe has been backed, lavishing £20m and £25m on Nathan Ake and Jefferson Lerma respectively. Bankrolled by a Russian petrochemicals trader, Bournemouth's rise through the divisions is not quite the fairytale it has been described as in some quarters. But Wilder's counterpart on the south coast does have a knack of discovering uncut diamonds and polishing them into sought-after gems. Callum Wilson, for example, cost £3m when he left Coventry City five years ago. He is now thought to be worth £27m.
United have pursued a similar strategy since Wilder’s appointment. And, having twice won promotion in only 35 months, it has also been a success. Both the 51-year-old and Howe are adept at developing assets. Their employers are reaping the benefits now.
Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
Seated behind desk emblazoned with the club's crest which dominates their new media suite, Wilder's first media assignment as a PL manager contained a number of nods to the shiny corporate world United now find themselves in. Towards the end of last term, as his squad blazed a trail out of the Championship, Wilder held court inside a tiny office behind the training ground canteen. For the foreseeable future, official audiences with United's manager are scheduled to place on the top floor of the complex's main headquarters where a conference room, with the logos of sponsors and rights-holders daubed across one wall, has been specifically refurbished for such occasions.
But Wilder's recruitment strategy remains the same. Aware it would be folly to try and compete on a purely financial basis with the majority of the division, United's coaching staff are still putting their faith in hunger and potential. They are trying to find a niche.
Yes, the fees involved have got bigger. The salary costs too. But striker Oli McBurnie, who became the most expensive purchase in United's history when he completed a £20m move from Swansea City earlier this month, still arrived for a fraction of what Manchester United have just spent on a centre-half.
"We believe the boys we've brought in can bring something and improve what is already a really talented group," Wilder said. "I don't care where we get the lads from. There's too much snobbery about stuff like this at times. I've heard what some people are saying but, to be honest, I'm not really bothered. We know what works and what is best for us."
Four of the 10 players United acquired during the window came from England's second tier. All of them featured in United's squad at the Vitality Stadium. Only one - former Nottingham Forest midfielder Ben Osborn - did not take to the pitch during the 1-1 draw. Of the rest, Lys Mousset was the solitary PL footballer who commanded a fee, with Mo Besic and Dean Henderson brought in on loan and Phil Jagielka arriving for nothing after being released by Everton. Ravel Morrison was also a free agent, following a spell in Sweden. The same goes for goalkeeper Michael Verrips, who terminated his contract with KV Mechelen after the Belgians were dragged into a match-fixing scandal.
"We're hungry," McBurnie said before travelling to Dorset. "Because of our backgrounds, there's that desire to show we're good enough and no fear either."
Another often overlooked consequence of Wilder's transfer policy is the financial security it brings. If the worst does happen - and United are relegated - wages structures have been tailored to reflect that. There are also very few players now on the payroll whose values have now soared. Defender Jack O'Connell, who cost £500,000 from Brentford, would surely now cost around 40 times more if he ever moved on.
"Always, we just try and get the maximum out of our budget," Wilder said, ahead of Sunday's game against Crystal Palace. "We're not in debt and we've not put ourselves in a position where we're going to be in trouble three or four years down the line.
"Financially, we're really pleased with how we've done it. We've allocated money from the Premier League money to improve the group. We've also grown assets. We've done it in a sensible and pragmatic may. I've not looked at going down, I've looked at the market we're in. And that's come from the Premier League money, we haven't put ourselves in trouble."