Last day

The last day of an absolutely terrible football season (for Sheffield United, at least). We’ve broken all the wrong records, and it’s been pretty depressing to watch since before day one.

Mismanagement from the board, tactical naivety, a plethora of individual errors, a fragile mentality, a million injuries, a decent slice of bad luck, disappointing loanees, NOT ENOUGH MONEY, and some iffy refereeing decisions… it’s just all added up.

But we are in the Premier League. The best league in the world. And that’s worth remembering.

Because at the end of it all, I have to remind myself that we’re playing teams who can spend a billion pounds or more on the best players in the world. And while that certainly isn’t an excuse for a lot of what we’ve been put through this season, it certainly is a reason for some of it.

A lot of fans are saying that they’re looking forward to being in the Championship again, without the prima donnas and the piles of cash that rules the roost. Bigger fish in smaller pond and all that.
Without VAR too, but I’m always interested to understand how people have forgotten about the pre-VAR days when we complained about the referees and not the technology. Just watching the League Two play off final right now, and the ref made a howler with a penalty decision which would have changed the direction of the match (and likely the winner), and VAR saved the day. We’ll have to accept that sort of thing again, and we’ll be happy about it, right? Right.

More personally, the return to the Championship is also going to mean that I have to spend shedloads of GBPs on a streaming package so I can watch the games. And that’s not going to be pretty in ZARs, especially after the 29th.

Anyway. Last day. Last game. Last chance for a bit of pride. Not much else to play for, nothing matters, so the pressure is off, right?

My stress levels with still be in the high nineties at 5pm. It always matters…

Let’s revisit the European Super League idea

Remember about three years ago, when several (or more) of the top clubs in Europe thought that they should leave their respective leagues and just play against each other instead?

That idea included six clubs from England, whose bosses thought that they were too big for the puny challenges of the domestic arena, and clearly needed something bigger and better.

And more lucrative.

But the project fell apart pretty quickly amid acrimony, recriminations and legal action. The six EPL clubs involved apologised, got a baby slap on the wrist, absolutely no-one got banned from the Champions League as threatened by UEFA, there were no points deductions as threatened by the FA, and we went on with life as usual.

As soon as I heard about it, I was immediately against the idea of the ESL. It was clearly formulated by the boards of the teams involved with no thought for the grassroots support of the clubs, and the traditional values and history of football. And while there’s still some rumbling behind the scenes, and the idea does seem to have gone away for the moment, I’m still against it.

But also, I’m actually not.

That idea that the ESL would ruin the tradition and values of football, and that the project was only about making money for “the suits upstairs” rings a bit hollow when you look at where we are now, three years on, because actually it’s happened anyway, just in the domestic league setting instead of a continental one.

The “Super League” ethos and its money already clearly exists within the Premier League.

Liverpool’s three goals last night (the first one gifted by our useless keeper, the second an absolute thunderbeagle after a very helpful clearance, and the third one just showing how squad strength in depth (via – *gasp* – money) is such a huge thing), came at a cost of £190,000,000.

That’s far more than our entire club is worth.
Not just the players on the pitch last night.
Not just the squad.
The entire business – the ground, the staff, the infrastructure, the training academy, the women’s teams, the name, the history, those solar garden gnomes in the gift shop: everything. All of it.
Versus three players.

Erik Ten Haag took charge of Manchester United less than 2 years ago. He’s spent almost twice as much on players in that time than we have in our entire 135 year history.

Arsenal shelled out just under a quarter of a billion pounds on three players this season.

Chelsea: it’s just billions. Billions and billions. A never ending pot of cash that is carefully spent over almost complete decades to avoid breaking the rules… maybe.

“It’s not sport if you can’t lose”, said Pep Guardiola, in his criticism of the ESL idea back in 2021.

That comment was about the limited relegation possibilities for ESL teams, but it’s steeped in irony now, given that his club are facing 115 charges for breaking financial fair play regulations. Charges which they will likely never actually face given that they have more money than the Premier League, can afford some ridiculously expensive legal teams and are already adopting a Stalingrad defence*.

And even if they ever do get punished, it won’t be in any meaningful form, thanks to new regulations conveniently just announced by the EPL.

How can we, or anyone else without money (or ok, yes, any sort of regard for the financial fair play regulations), ever hope to compete?

We can’t. And that’s why the Premier League is broken.

And before anyone points out plucky “little” Aston villa and their amazing league position, well yes, it is great, but even they’ve spent almost half a billion quid over the last 4 years.

The Premier League is clearly hugely divided. There’s absolutely no chance of relegation for the “Big Six”, they buy all the best players, they win all the trophies, and they have pots and pots of money. For them, most games are pretty much a foregone conclusion. The only interesting matches are when they play each other.

And that’s exactly what the ESL was going to give us.

But with added Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

So actually, why not go and do that and make domestic football better again?

Why are we allowing our domestic game to be ruined by letting these clubs to do exactly what they were trying to do anyway by inventing their runaway league? If that’s the way it’s going to be, let them go.
It’s broken and it’s not going to get any better while they’re still here.

Sadly, of course, that will never happen.
Because of – you guessed it – money.

[sighs deeply – gets on with his day]

Last Night

Didn’t win.
Actually unlucky to lose.
Tactically very sound.
Defended well.
And a couple of… let’s say… “convenient” decisions for the opposition:

Lol. Diplomacy with sarcasm. I love it.
Someone doesn’t want to get himself into trouble on his first day back.

But he’s right, because, for example, while we all love a good tackle, that Darwin Nunez scissor action on Jayden Bogle was clearly a foul in the modern era. And by “the modern era”, I mean last night.
On a muddy pitch with jumpers for goalposts and clodhopper Mitre boots back in 1986? Sure. Fantastic.
But there are a lot of things you could do then that you simply can’t do now. And that was certainly one of them.

That said, we were playing a good side with some quality players. And Joe Gomez. It’s always a bit of a wake-up call to the reality of the other world in the Premier League when the opposition bring on a €45m Dutch signing to replace their other €45m Dutch signing because they needed some extra cover for their defence for the last five minutes, but for once this season, we punched above our weight and there were plenty of positives too. It was good to see a return of some passion and some drive. The confidence was clearly still missing: when you have young strikers who have proven that they can score goals and they’re not shooting, well, we know why that is. But a few more of those performances, a goal or two, and maybe it’ll return.

We move away from football for a short while now, ahead of the next round of fixtures which are [checks notes] a whole 48 hours away. I do so hope that everyone is happy with that situation.

A New(ish) Dawn

All change in Sheffield S2:

Yes. Thank you, Hecky.
Certainly landing comfortably within the Top Four of United managers in my lifetime: Warnock, Bassett, Wilder and now Heckingbottom.

And as one door closes:

I leave Sheffield United after three and a half years with many great memories created by many great people. 

I begin by thanking Prince Abdullah and the Board for entrusting me with managing such a special club. The challenges and successes have made for such a special couple of years, and it has been an honour to lead the team during this period. 

To the staff at Bramall Lane and in the Academy, your roles can never be underestimated or undervalued. You are the heartbeat of the club and will continue to be, regardless of who is in charge. Thank you. 

To all First Team staff at Shirecliffe, thank you for helping to create a fantastic place to come to work. It has been a joy! Your attitude and professionalism has helped us to navigate some potentially tricky moments and has kept us moving forwards, no matter what. 

To the players, those who have left, those who I have known a long time and those who I wish to have known longer, thank you. Working with you all is the best part of the job. The focus and spirit that you demonstrated allowed us to achieve special things. Our history-making season in the face of adversity, born out of a heart-breaking and emotional loss in the play-offs the season before, will forever be my highlight. A record 91 Championship points and FA Cup Semi-Final does not begin to tell the story. Well done and I hope to catch up with you all soon.

Finally, a message to the fans. Thank you for your support. You are what made the journey so special and many of my fondest memories are of the players and fans celebrating our victories together. Bramall Lane on a match day will always hold a special place in my heart. I loved it! When the dust settles, that is what will bring me back. I hope to catch up with many of you then. In the meantime, keep supporting your team.

Another door opens:

Yep. It’s the return of Chris Wilder to United (accompanied on the club’s social media by some Kasabian), and a re-baptism of fire with Liverpool visiting just 30 hours after his arrival.

If I seemed sceptical about switching managers in this post, it’s because I am. There are far bigger problems at Sheffield United than the manager. But it seems unlikely that the axe was ever going to fall on anyone of a higher pay grade.

And that’s not the fault of the manager (either of them) or the players.

And so, yes. We will continue to support the team and the manager and we will expect nothing less than 100% effort every game, no matter the position the team is in or the state of play on the pitch.
No right-thinking fan was ever expecting us to bring the Premier League trophy back to Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane this season, but equally, no fan deserves to watch players not giving their all for 90+ minutes, each and every game.

Let’s begin (again) tonight.