At 7:45pm on Friday 2nd August, yet another new era will begin at Bramall Lane. Since the departure of Neil Warnock, this isn’t an alien concept to us Blades and it is something we have become all become accustomed to.
The 5 incumbents of the managerial hot seat since our relegation from the promised land of the Premier League have been of mixed calibre and have provided mixed success. The highs of the play off finals followed by the lows of the inevitable defeats mixed in with the crushing relegation to League One. In Bryan Robson and Micky Adams we had two managers who failed to muster up more than a whimper from the team at their disposal. Kevin Blackwell, in hindsight, probably made a good fist of it and was perhaps unlucky to lose his job after only a couple of games of the 2010-2011 season. The reign of Gary Speed was short lived and did not live up to its billing but we will never know whether his philosophies would have provided results in the long term. Our most recent permanent gaffer Danny Wilson came very, very close to making it back to the Championship and without the incarceration of Ched Evans and injuries to several key players, we may well be a Championship club right now.
At the start of all the previous managers’ reigns, there has always been a level of optimism and expectation. In some cases this may have been misguided. As David Weirs reign is about to start, I can’t help but feel a genuine sense of optimism that surpasses that of the previous appointments. From all the reports you read, Weir is an incredibly well thought of man and more importantly a very well respected coach within the game. You only have to read the glowing references given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. If David Weir gets anywhere near to the careers the aforementioned managers have had, he will have done incredibly well.
One thing that is very appealing about Weir, in the same way as Gary Speed, is that the man has an aura about him and commands the full attention of anyone who is listening to him speak. I can only think that this must be the same when he is speaking to the United squad. Any man who has played at the level he has and done so until he was into his 40’s has a reputation that precedes him.
A key factor in my optimism is the new formation Weir has decided to utilise in pre season and he will presumably carry into the new League One season. The fluid 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation is used at the highest of levels and is the preferred formation of the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. You would therefore like to think there is a lot to be said for this modern and fluid looking way to play. This formation could and should bring out the best in some of our key players, which should in turn lead to a brand of football that is not only effective but also pleasing on the eye. The key players I refer to are Jamie Murphy, Fabien Brandy and most importantly of all, Kevin McDonald.
Murphy and Brandy have pace to burn and have that unpredictability that we have lacked for a number of years. Murphy arrived in January and seemed to be bogged down a bit by the weight of expectation that was resting on his shoulders. He did however show enough flashes of pace and penetration to make me think he has what it takes to be a big player for us. I think the change of formation and change of manager will bring the best out of him this season. Febian Brandy is something of an unknown quantity to most of us but if he can recreate performances like the one he served up against United at the Banks Stadium last season, we have got ourselves a hell of a player and a fantastic free transfer. He is exactly the player United have missed over the last few seasons.
Callum McFadzean can maybe think himself a little hard done to if he is, as expected, sat on the bench against County but he will have a big part to play this season and I can’t help but think his time will come. The same can’t be said about Ryan Flynn who in my opinion is yet to show anything to make me think he offers anything more to the team than a big heart a willingness to work. Every team needs players that will work for the team, but I am willing to sacrifice this in the case of attack minded wingers who can win you a game.
I have to hold my hands up and say that I am Kevin McDonald’s biggest fan and I think he is comfortably the most talented footballer in the league on his day, he just maybe goes missing a bit too often in some games. This new position that has been created for him just behind a main striker could be a match made in heaven. This position should allow McDonald to get onto the ball in areas where is sublime range of passing can make a difference and can affect play in the final 3rd of the pitch. Not only will it allow him to orchestrate our midfield, it should also lead to him getting on the scores sheet more regularly which is probably the main criticism of him given the way he can strike a ball. 1 goal all season last season is not the goal return we know he is capable of.
Along with Brandy, we have also signed 5 other players who appear to fit the new ethos of the club in that they are young, talented and hungry to play football. For the first time in a long time, I can happily say that I am pleased with the business David Weir has conducted so far in pre season. I am fully expecting McGinn and Taylor to start the first game of the season and probably feature in the vast majority of our games and both will be key to our promotion challenge. Taylor in particular could be an excellent piece of business if he can get anywhere near to filling the huge goal scoring void that was left by Ched Evans. I’m not sure how much we are likely to see of Johns and McGinty but if they fulfil their potential they could be big players for us in the years to come.
The signing of Connor Coady is probably our biggest coup to date and could be an inspired short term signing. Having listened to Danny Higgingbotham (who will make an excellent pundit or potentially a coach) and Matt Hill on talkSPORT a few nights ago, Coady is a player with a huge future in front of him. They both described him as a special player with buckets of ability. If this ability can be transferred onto the pitch then this can only benefit us, the player and ultimately parent club Liverpool. Hopefully he will be able to make a big impact in his short pace of time at The Lane.
My only concern at this point in time is that we yet again let our expectations get the better of us. We all need to make sure there’s no panic and pessimism if Weir’s tactics and footballing beliefs don’t yield immediate success. The players may need time to adapt and we as fans need to recognise this and embrace what the manager, the players and the club are trying to do. Oh and my only other slight concern is that Marcus Williams has played a worrying amount of pre season games…….
All in all, I am have been very pleased with how our pre-season has panned out and I hope we can carry this into the new season. On the other hand, this is Sheffield United we are talking about and life is never that simple.
Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger
Ian tweets at @ijparkes