Rotherham 3 Sheffield United 1 match report: Blades lack royal approval
Sheffield United's Saudi co-owner demands instant improvement after derby defeat
the new york stadium
Sunday 08 September 2013
It was as well this was a day for the bigger picture, because perception, warned Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz al Saud with the genial assurance of the seriously wealthy, can be misleading.
Just because his family is the richest in the world does not mean the new co-owner of Sheffield United, and the first member of Saudi Arabian royalty to invest in English football, has access to the sort of funds which mean the Blades must now be bracketed with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
"My money is on public record, I own 50 per cent of Saudi Paper, and Saudi Paper is quoted on the stock market. Go check and add maybe 5 to 10 per cent," said the balding, bespectacled, besuited and apparently benign grandson of King Abdulaziz.
Which, with Saudi Paper Manufacturing currently valued at around £240 million, suggests the new co-owner of the Blades is worth, oh, a trifling £130m or so. Not as much as United supporters might have thought, but enough to indicate the transfer fund he has made available to the South Yorkshire club runs to at least £20m.
At this level, that is still a lot of money. Financial Fair Play may require League One clubs to spend no more than 60 per cent of their turnover on players' wages, but they can spend what they want on transfer fees and signing bonuses. Plenty of scope for a creative accountant to work with there, and as Prince Abdullah's intention is to see United playing the Premier League football that he says he watches obsessively as soon as possible, ideally within five years, it should be enough to see United into the Championship.
Taking the next step will require a lot more money, but that should not be a problem. His Royal Highness made it clear other Saudi investors are expected to come on board, and talks to this effect are already taking place.
Leeds United, Derby County and Charlton Athletic supporters may wince at this point, because it could have been their club receiving an injection of cash. The 47-year-old said that having decided to get involved in English football, his original intention had been to buy – or at least invest in – a Championship club.
The three mentioned were examined, Leeds with particular care, but the deal was "not straightforward" and a chance meeting with the Blades' chairman, Kevin McCabe, led to him buying 50 per cent of Sheffield United's parent company for a pound.
The quid pro quo for acquiring a half-share in a debt-free club – because McCabe said his family have written off the £90m they claim to have pumped into the club over the years – is that the Prince made substantial funds available to bring in new players. Having done so, however, he made clear he expects a return.
"Manchester City and Paris St-Germain are clubs backed by governments. I am sure they have their own goals, which may not be to turn a profit, they are maybe to bring good PR to their countries," he said. "And if they succeed, God bless them.
"But I am an investor, and I will not make any money unless the team gets promoted. I don't get my money from an oil well, everything I have I have to work for."
So while he said he intended to take a back seat while he learns the business of football, the manager, David Weir, needs to be under no illusion as to what is expected.
"I think we have had a horrible start," said Prince Abdullah. "Four points out of five games is not going to get you anywhere.
"The team needs to improve and it needs to improve quickly. Good performances are not going to take you anywhere, you are what your record says you are."
That said, the new co-owner, who said he began life as a Spurs supporter before transferring his allegiance to Manchester United and the San Francisco 49ers, indicated the former Everton and Scotland centre-half has impressed him.
"I spoke to David and I liked him. I've met many coaches, Eric Gerets, Mario Zagallo [both of whom have managed leading Saudi club Al-Hilal, owned by the Royal Family]. I know coaches and I know the sport."
Whether he likes Weir so much after watching this frantic, often ugly derby may be open to question. United took the lead after Jose Baxter – bought from Oldham with some of Prince Abdullah's money at the end of the transfer window – squeezed the ball home from a narrow angle in the first half.
In the second half, however, they were both outplayed and outfought, and Rotherham United, themselves very much a club on the up, first equalised through Kieran Agard's powerful angled drive and then secured the points through Daniel Nardiello's penalty and Rob Milsom's low shot.
The result leaves Sheffield United the worst placed of South Yorkshire's professional clubs, but better times should now be ahead. And they can be reassured about something else too, unlike certain other clubs with a new owner.
"I bought into a big, important piece of history and I'm not going to play with that," said the new man at the top. "We're not going to be called Sheffield 49ers or change the colours to pink."
Rotherham (4-2-3-1): Shearer; Brindley, Morgan (Nardiello, 47), Davis, Skarz; Mills, Frecklington; Agaard, Pringle, Milsom; Revell.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Howard; McMahon, Maguire, Collins, Hill; Flyn (Bunn, 69), Coady, Doyle, Cuvelier; Baxter, Porter (Taylor, 69).
Referee Andy D'Urso.
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