NIGEL CLOUGH last night revealed how Sheffield United’s stirring run to the FA Cup semi-finals and a storming end to the league season are already proving a “big selling point” to prospective new signings.
The Blades unveiled their first two captures of the summer yesterday when Livingston striker Marc McNulty joined for an initial £125,000 and former Rotherham United winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce agreed terms on a free transfer switch.
McNulty, 22, has signed a three-year deal, while 31-year-old Campbell-Ryce will put pen to paper on a two-year contract after his existing deal at Notts County expires next month.
United, who finished just one place outside the play-offs in League One, have already been installed as favourites to win promotion next term, a tag that Clough admits he finds bewildering due to the transfer market still yet to kick into gear.
Nevertheless, the Blades’ chief admits to being delighted by his first signings of the summer.
He said: “There is no number on how many we want to bring in. Just as many good players as we can to get a squad together capable of challenging for the top six and, hopefully, beyond.
“Certainly another three or four, maybe more on top of these two. Jamal and Marc are at different ends of the spectrum, in terms of one being 22 and the other 31. But both have a point to prove and I sense both are proud to come and play for Sheffield United.
“To be fair, that has been a pretty common theme in terms of players we have spoken to in the last few weeks.
“They have seen what we did in the FA Cup and the league, and want to be part of what will be a good season.
“Last season was massive in so many areas – from recruitment to season tickets to all aspects of the club, including sponsorship and commercial.
“There is a positive feeling again and plenty of optimism. It has been such a big selling point. Not only did people see us finish strongly and get to the FA Cup last four, but it was the way we did it.
“They also read about the crowds and see the atmosphere here. Plus, the numbers we took to Wembley. We don’t have to try too hard to sell the club at the moment.
“I sense that all the way through the club. I speak to the Academy manager and when he is signing eight-, nine-, 10-year-olds, he is able to tell the parents, ‘A 16-year-old played for the first team last season’. That means the parents know the youngsters will get a chance.”
Campbell-Ryce, a Jamaican international, has spent the past two years at Meadow Lane, while McNulty moves south after netting 19 goals last term to link-up with former Livingston team-mate, Stefan Scougall.
Clough added: “We have a healthy budget but we will seek not to waste one penny of it. Scotland is a good market for us because they get good experience at a young age. No one has any money up there so they do put them in earlier than in England.
“Physically, they get battered around up there, too, and because of how Stefan settled we are optimistic that Marc can do the same.”
Two players unlikely to return to Bramall Lane, however, are John Brayford and Conor Coady.
The pair were on loan at the Lane last season from Cardiff City and Liverpool respectively, and Clough admits their impressive form for United has since given both players’ respective parent club food for thought.
The Blades’ chief added: “We have spoken to Cardiff about John Brayford and they are going to give him a go in the Championship next season. So, at the moment, he is not available for loan.
“To be fair, we knew when he came in (last January) that it was likely to be a four-month thing. And then considering how well he did, the chances of sneaking him back in again were slim. But if it doesn’t work out, he knows where we are.
“As for Conor, I think he will be away with Liverpool in pre-season. He is still waiting for a decision as to what they will do over his future.
“He only has a year left on his contract so Liverpool have to make a decision as to whether they will extend it. Or maybe look to sell.”
Asked if it would be dangerous to wait until maybe as late as the final few days of the summer window to see if Liverpool were willing to allow Coady out on loan again, Clough replied: “We can’t wait and miss out on other people for the chance he might come. If we get the nod off Liverpool and are told he will do pre-season with them but then come here for the season, that is different. But that is not the situation now.”
Contract offers have been made to Ben Davies and Chris Porter but Kevin Stewart, who had been on trial at the Lane, has opted to accept an approach from an unnamed Premier League club following his release by Tottenham Hotspur.
On Stewart, Clough added: “His agent thought it would be best to come here because he needs experience. He is an example of a lad who is 21 but played just three league games. He is going to go to a Premier League club where he won’t play many more.”