Sheffield United have been playing it long this season, and the work they are putting into Lys Mousset is starting to pay rich dividends.
The striker was quick off the mark on Sunday, taking just 63 seconds to find the net at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but his season has been a slow-burner.
Mousset came out of October’s international break having only started one game for United, the League Cup defeat to Sunderland. Even after scoring on his full league debut against Arsenal, he was back on the bench at West Ham United. Now, though, it is hard to imagine a Blades XI without Mousset, who started every game in November.
The softly-softly treatment of Mousset – and Oli McBurnie, who quickly succeeded him as their record signing in the summer – shows good football takes time.
Yet shortly before Mousset’s fifth goal this season, Premier League Watford sacked their manager after just ten games.
Dismissals like Quique Sanchez Flores’s can bring short-term gain, but having spent three days on a building site after retiring as a player, Wilder knows that to achieve anything lasting, you need solid foundations.
The advent calendars are out and still the on-loan Helder Costa is feeling his way in.Stuart Rayner
The Blades’ way of playing is highly sophisticated and very physically demanding, and Mousset was given time to get up to speed physically and mentally. McBurnie had a run of games in August/September, but is now taking a back seat.
Like Wolves, the Blades have devised a way of playing on their way up through the divisions, and are refining it as they go along.
At Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa is not to be rushed either.
Ben White was thrown in at the deep end as Pontus Jansson’s replacement, but Eddie Nketiah has had to go through the same process as Mousset.
Already, Bielsa is thinking out loud about trying to bring Nketiah back for a second season-long loan, as he has with Manchester City’s Jack Harrison. Given that Bristol City are showing an interest in taking the Arsenal centre-forward in January, that might be optimistic, but it shows long-term thinking, even from a head coach enjoying a second season with a club for the first time since leaving Athletic Bilbao in 2013.
“I think it’s important he solidifies his integration into Leeds and it would be good for that if he stays after January and one more year,” Bielsa said recently of Nketiah. “That would be ideal to allow him to be a success at Leeds.”
The advent calendars are out and still the on-loan Helder Costa is feeling his way in.
“He is developing but he can show more impact to unbalance the game,” was Bielsa’s verdict after Helder scored on Saturday.
Bielsa and Wilder are the lucky ones.
Their impressive cvs have bought them the time needed to develop players and teams. Both rely heavily on improving individuals, rather than just falling back on a big chequebook.
With every year that passes, it feels like patience is more and more elusive, and not just for rookie managers like Jonathan Woodgate, who is trying to change the footballing culture at Middlesbrough with a young and injury-hit squad but who now has the spectre of an out-of-work and apparently restless Neil Warnock being linked with his job.
Warnock is a fine manager who would almost certainly be a short-term success, but zig-zagging from Tony Pulis to Woodgate to Warnock would make no sense. Switching between different extremes clutters squads with players totally unsuited to the present thinking. The noises from the Riverside suggest Boro are not looking to go that way.
Even those with a track record are not immune. Flores not only had a good career behind him, but had previously been a success at Watford in the Premier League.
Barnsley could not give Daniel Stendel the quick fix of a big transfer war chest to plug the gaps the vultures ripped in his League One promotion-winning side, yet they were not prepared to wait beyond mid-October to see if he could turn things around. At least Gerhard Struber was a logical next step. As Stendel was clearing his desk, Rotherham’s Paul Warne was talking openly about being under pressure.
Huddersfield Town had already sacked Jan Siewart by then. Revitalising a team which had a losing culture rotting away at it was always going to be difficult, and Siewart was probably not the man to do it. The way Danny Cowley has turned the tanker around perhaps highlights that, but the fact the Terriers are still only two points clear of the relegation zone shows how much there was to be done, and still is.
If Huddersfield thought Siewart was the right man in the summer – and they must have given it considerable thought after the way they meekly limped out of the Premier League – they had to back their convictions with patience after letting him revamp the squad.
“Sometimes time and stability help,” said Bielsa. When the going gets tough, chairmen and supporters would do well to remember that.