The last decade has been a storybook one for Sheffield United. In the last ten years, the Bramall Lane faithful have seen three promotions, three cup semifinals, and a top-half finish in the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history. Last season, despite finishing a distant second to Vincent Kompany’s Burnley, they were once again promoted to the English topflight, and that isn’t all the city of Sheffield has to shout about.
The Blades’ cross-city rivals Sheffield Wednesday were also promoted last season when striker Josh Windass bagged a last-gasp winner in the League One playoff final against South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley. If you have been planning to watch soccer throughout the summer, then you’ll have noticed that England has reached the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, one year on from listing the European Championships. Their captain, Millie Bright, calls the Steel City home.
But while all seems well on the surface, trouble has been bubbling below the surface, especially in S2. As such, online bookmakers have earmarked Paul Heckingbottom’s side as one of the favorites for relegation back to the Championship alongside fellow promoted side Luton Town. But why is that?
A Disastrous Transfer Window
Heading into the new Premier League season, many thought that Sheffield United were much better positioned for a shot at the big time than they were when they were previously promoted to the division three years prior. This time around, they had a number of elite international players in the form of Bosnian defender Anel Ahmedhodžić, Norwegian midfield maestro Sander Berge and Senegalese international attacker Iliman Ndiaye. Compare that to the previous time around when the Blades had a strike force of Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick, and the contrast is there for all to see.
However, two of those three key men, namely Berge and Ndiaye, have both left South Yorkshire this summer. The latter returned back to his birth country France to sign with giants Marseille. The former meanwhile has headed west along the M62 to sign for fellow promoted side Burnley in a deal that has certainly left a sour taste in the mouth of fans of the Red and White Wizards. In their place, the powers that be at the club have decided to take a chance on unproven European prodigies.
Vini Souza has arrived from Belgian second-division side Clonmel while fullback Yasser Larouci has arrived from France’s second tier as well. Midfielder Anis Slimane and 20-year-old striker Bénie Traoré have both arrived from Scandinavia, while unproven American defender Auston Trusty has joined from Arsenal. The club has added some experience in the form of Everton.
midfielder Tom Davies while also bringing in Coventry City standout Gustavo Hamer, who scored a stunning goal on his debut in the recent 2-1 defeat against Nottingham Forest.
The Blades Have Proven the Doubters Wrong Before
Back in 2019, Sheffield United were promoted to the Premier League, and the promotion was much more unexpected than last season. That year, they were embarking on just their second season in the second tier after six years in League One, and they stunned all their doubters as they managed to secure a second-place finish. They spent heavily before their top-flight return on the likes of Oli McBurnie, Rhian Brewster, and Lys Mousset, however, it was their old guard that the core of Chris Wilder’s team was built around.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson shone brightly, as did overlapping central defenders Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham. In midfield, three of the men crucial to the previous year’s promotion, namely John Lundstram, Oliver Norwood, and John Fleck provided the ammunition for the aforementioned McGoldrick and Sharp up top. All of those players were key to United’s promotion, and they would fire the Blades to the brink of the UEFA Champions League.
Throughout that 2019/20 campaign, the Blades stunned everyone as they clung on to a position close to the Premier League’s summit. When the league was temporarily halted due to global events in March, United was sitting in sixth place, just two points adrift of Chelsea in fourth. They had lost just once in their last seven and were one of the division’s form teams, but they would soon be without the prized asset.
That asset was, of course, the Bramall Lane faithful. The atmospheric stadium is one of England’s last remaining old-school stadiums and it has been the 12th man whenever required. Once football returned later that summer, the Blades’ form would fall off a cliff.
With games played behind closed doors the following campaign, United would finish rock bottom of the Premier League and suffer a humiliating relegation. This year, they – and the Bramall Lane crowd are back. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see them upset the bookmakers once more.