From David Weir’s future to Blades onesies and the Greasy Chip Butty song, Jim Phipps – Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah’s principal adviser – talks exclusively to Richard Hercock.
What impact, if any, has the Prince’s arrival had in the short term?
The deal between Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah had a positive influence on the transfer window in the sense that we not only were able to bring in great talent, but we also were able to preserve home-grown academy talent, which the club might otherwise have been faced with trading for economic reasons.
I think the short-term effect of the deal has been to give fans hope that the longer term interests of the club will be resourced. This hope has not, unfortunately, been nurtured by the September results, but still it should persist. The McCabes and the Prince are committed to taking this club up.
Has the Prince been surprised by the scale of the challenge, with the Blades currently sitting bottom of English football’s third tier? Any regrets?
The Prince has been around football for a long time, so there is probably little that might surprise him, but I think as with all involved (fans, management, players) we did not anticipate being at the bottom of the third division table at the end of September.
While results have been poor, performances have improved. Have you been impressed with the new players recruited?
It is clear to me that King, Hall, Baxter, Cuvelier and Brandy have added a lot. What remains to be seen is whether the first team can put balls in the back of the net.
We are reaching a moment where calls for patience and discussions about settling in and gelling will fall on deaf ears. The time for the lads to show what they can do as a squad has more or less arrived.
How do you assess the job manager David Weir is doing? Is there a timeline, if the Blades are still down at the bottom by Christmas, for example, when a change of manager may be needed?
David Weir came to Sheffield United with a remit to build a system that could carry the club into the Championship and the Prem. The idea, after all, is not just to get there, but to stay there.
The work David Weir has been doing with the lads to achieve this end is pretty amazing, especially when you see behind the scenes.
You have to admit (David certainly does) that these efforts have not shown well on match-days. We perhaps have seen glimpses of the possible, like that strong (though scoreless) first half performance against the Wolves last weekend, but we haven’t yet seen the lusty Blades threat, which weathers adversity, come what may, and still put balls in the back of the net.
Yes, David Weir still has something to prove, but he understands that. He knows this business well and he understands the pressures of time and the realities of the profession he has chosen.
What help does David Weir need to start a Blades revival? Or do the players need to share the blame for a poor start to the season?
If blame is a useful category, let’s all drink a frothy pint full. On the pitch, we have not gotten the job done. On the sidelines, we have not gotten the job done. In the stands, in offices, and in the boardroom, we have not gotten the job done.
The idea that you can blame one man for this mess is unworkable, and leads to belief that the change needed is in one man.
I am not sure of its origin, but in law practice, we always said, ‘Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan’. Ain’t it the truth? We all like to be around to take credit, but rarely responsibility. No one escapes blame. The lads need to bring it.
The manager and his staff need to step it up. In the stands, we have got to stand by our team. In management and on the board, we must do a better job supporting the effort and rallying our base.
Sources in Ireland claim Roy Keane is in the running to be next Blades manager. Is there any substance to this?
To my knowledge, there is no substance to this rumour. If a change in management is to be made, you can be sure it will be announced first through official channels.
Have you been surprised how tough League One is? Have you had to reconsider your strategy and promotion timeline?
We came to this with eyes open. We thought it might take a couple of years to climb out of League One, which is a league of unique and sometimes confounding challenges. Our timeline remains unaffected. Our strategy is intact.
We may have to adjust tactics from time to time, but we did not come into this as children thinking it could be done overnight. We respect the competitive spirit that exists within League One. We are not the only team with aspirations of going up.
Has anything really surprised you in your first month as joint-owners?
I am still struck at the warmth of the people of Sheffield. Sheffield really is like a village. I am also growing in my appreciation of the passion Yorkshiremen have for sports and for all things football.
You seem to have lots of feedback from United fans; what is their general message? Any funny/unusual requests?
The fans seem to be saying, some in more colorful ways than others, “Get us the hell out of here”. None are happy about being at the bottom of the table in League One. All have high expectations. Plenty want us to make dramatic changes (management, players, playing system) and others think we might communicate better with them and provide a more sensible telephone ticketing system.
At the bottom of it, I think they all want to be part of a winning tradition and feel an urgency about getting this abysmal start turned around. As for funny requests, I think I may have helped one family get some Blades onesies so their four-year-old can enjoy the winter fixtures ahead.
What message would the Prince like to give to Sheffield United supporters?
I believe he would say, ‘Thanks for the warm welcome. We have lots of work to do and what we seek to do cannot be done alone or overnight. I need your help. Let’s settle in for the long fight and do this together. Above all, let’s let the lads know we’re behind them’.
And finally, have you learned the words to the Greasy Chip Butty song yet?
Yes, shall I sing it for you?