Before Covid-19 brought English football to a halt, the Blades were in talks with John Egan, Oliver Norwood and John Lundstram over new contracts, but manager Chris Wilder has decided it would be wrong to continue them at such a sensitive time for the country economically.
However, those who had been stalling over new deals while Wilder, John Fleck and Enda Stevens signed theirs should be warned – the Blades manager showed his ruthless streak is as strong as ever by warning any player unwilling to extend their deals beyond June 30 if that was needed to complete the 2019-20 season he would be happy to cut them adrift.
“I don’t think it’s right for players and agents to talk to us about contracts and increases in length and from a financial point of view, in the situation we’re going through,” he said. “Everything’s been put on hold.
“Things like that can be quickly picked up and I’m sure they will be, but I’m not sure if it’s in the best possible taste if the back of paper is splashing a player signing an improved three-year contract when financially, everybody recognises the impact the virus has had on our economy and what it’s doing to businesses, how much investments and savings have taken a hit and how far it’s pushed us back economically.
“So everything is on hold. Morally it’s the right thing to do.”
One issue football is having to consider at present is whether the season can be extended beyond June 30 when some players are out of contract then.
“I hear about players at other clubs that might walk away,” said Wilder. “Let them walk away. If they don’t want to be part of the football club, see you later, bye, bye, we’ll get on with what we’ve got to get on with.
“If I spoke to Phil Jagielka (who is out of contract at Bramall Lane this summer) in 20 minutes’ time and said, ‘Listen, Jags, we’re going to extend your contract by a month, it’s up to you,’ I know 100 per cent what his decision would be. That’s the whole point of having good people at clubs.”
In other respects, though, Wilder and his team have tried to up their longer-term work.
“We’ve tried not to waste too much time,” he said. “I speak to the players daily through the coaches and the boys have climbed to the top of their profession and are determined to stay there.
“As staff we’ve reflected on things we’ve done, good things and bad things.
“We’ve all been working away so when we get back we can implement a few things we feel need working on so we can hopefully bridge that gap.”
The vast amounts of video clips and data modern clubs have access to means they can scout future opponents and potential signings from home and with no time on the training pitches, there is more opportunity for Wilder to do it.
“Our recruitment has been outstanding and people have used the time to look at squads and investment and prices,” said Wilder. “If you look at the wealth of owners in the Premier League and it blows you away sometimes, especially what looks like happening in the north east (where Newcastle United are close to being taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium). Data is key for us in how we recruit, we have made mistakes in there but generally our recruitment is right up there pound for pound with anybody’s. We’re extremely proud of that and work is still going into it.
“We talked about budgets for the summer but we don’t know if they’ll be affected. We’ve got different situations to work to.
“If we put a team out next season and we haven’t signed anybody, it won’t have been for the want of trying or because we’ve been lazy.
“Staff are working away in every aspect to improve us, window on window and season on season. We have to do it in a different way and we’ve managed to do that in the past That has to be our goal going forward.”
Under the circumstances, Wilder is unwilling to take any plaudits for the work going on behind the scenes at the club, where the players have joined himself, chief executive Stephen Bettis and the coaches in taking a wage deferral.
“It’s difficult to look at anything from a positive point of view other than stuff away from football, where we’re all immensely proud of what people are doing,” said Wilder.
“Where I live and generally in the city, it’s been exceptional in terms of adhering to the Government’s advice. Whether I’m out on my bike doing my physical session a day or doing a bit of shopping, they’re all adhering to it. That’s the positive, in terms of need and crisis, everyone pulls together and I believe majority of people have.
“From a football point of view, it’s difficult to talk about because there’s still a lot of speculation and people are still working away. Other businesses and industries will be putting plans in place to go when we get the nod.
“What the players have done is small and they shouldn’t be singing from the rooftops about what they’ve done. It’s not a big deal.
“But the professionalism of the players has been exceptional and we’re all just looking to get back up and running.”