You only have to listen to Chris Wilder enthuse about the return of Paul Coutts to appreciate how much Sheffield United have missed their injured talisman.
The Scottish midfielder has been sidelined with a broken leg sustained at Burton Albion last November.
But Coutts is now back training – he even travelled with the Blades to QPR last weekend and took part in the pre-match warm-up, so keen are United to get the 30-year-old involved – and he is due to play in a behind-closed-doors game next week.
Wilder hopes Coutts will return to first-team duties next month, and with the Blades looking to bring in Middlesbrough winger Marvin Johnson and a striker before next Friday’s transfer deadline, admits the midfielder’s return would be “like having a new signing”.
He said: “Mr Coutts will face a game next week, which is good news for all of us. It’s brilliant. We took him down to QPR with us, did the warm-up, and it’s a lift for the supporters and – more importantly – the players. He’s a big voice in that changing room.
“He’s been excellent, seeing him at full tilt in training is the next stage.
We have to be flexible and tactical. We have to have players who can play in different ways, different shapes, and different combinations.Chris Wilder
“He has to go through the clearance process, 30, 60, 75, 90 minutes…so it will be another three or four weeks.
“So we are looking possibly at the end of next month when he will be knocking on the door. It will be like having a new signing.”
Coutts will return to a midfield that struggled to fill the gap in his absence last season.
But with the arrival of Ollie Norwood – on loan from Brighton – to partner John Fleck, the Blades will certainly have options in midfield when Coutts returns.
It is a scenario that excites Wilder, and gives him the ability to switch formations and personnel.
“I can see a scenario where there are a lot of combinations in that group, and that’s what I need as a manager,” he said.
“We need to be able to play different formations, which we have done recently, and we have done in our time here.
“Everyone looks at us as three at the back, over-lapping centre-halves, all the stuff that goes with that, but this is Championship football and we have to be flexible and tactical.
“We have to have players who can play in different ways, different shapes, and different combinations. Certainly they are good enough players to have a Norwood-Fleck-Coutts combination, but Bash (Chris Basham) has played in the middle of park and (Ryan) Leonard came on last week and did a great job for us. John Lundstram has played in there as well, so midfield is well stocked, and we have some really good players.
“Paul coming back gives us another option, but he has to get into the team.
“Hopefully it goes well between now and his return. It’s an important period, leading up to the international break.
“I want it to be a really big fight for him (Coutts) to get in, but we all know he has the ability and attitude to force his way in.”
Norwood has been impressive in his first two games for United – against Hull City and Norwich City – and certainly brings an extra dimension to the Blades’ midfield.
“He’s had a great start to his Sheffield United career, so we think it’s a good bit of business from our point of view,” said Wilder.
“Ollie has come in and done exactly what we thought he would. He has composure on the ball, organised, and he is a Northern Ireland international with 50-plus caps.
“He has experience playing for his previous two teams in Brighton and Fulham, and even before that he has been a regular Championship player.”
Wilder has confirmed his interest in Boro winger Johnson, but accepts no deal can be completed until Tony Pulis strengthens his own Riverside squad first.
United also want a striker before the loan transfer window closes – Blades forward Caolan Lavery has been the subject of several enquries – although Wilder dismissed links with Millwall’s Lee Gregory.
“There’s been a couple of enquiries about Caolan Lavery, so we will wait and see on that one,” confirmed Wilder.
“But I am not expecting anything else. We have worked hard to put this squad together and feel when the window shuts, if we do get the couple of players in we want, it’s a good group and a better group than last year, and one that started pre-season.
“Now the key is to work them to produce results on a regular basis.”
That starts tomorrow with a trip to in-form Bolton Wanderers, who sit third in the Championship behind Middlesbrough and Leeds United.
“It’s been a really good start from Bolton, they will be delighted,” said Wilder.
“Everybody says the league settles down after 10 games, so we are looking for that consistency.
“We have won our last two games and want a big finish before the international break.”