Later today Oli McBurnie will sign for Sheffield United in a deal that will bring some financial security for the Swans in the greater scheme of things but throws Steve Cooper’s preparation for the start of his maiden Championship season into disarray.
The Blades have doggedly pursued McBurnie’s signature all summer and were not put off when a £15m bid for the prolific forward was turned down by the Swans a few weeks ago. Coming back with an improved bid of £17m up front with a further £3m in add-ons proved too much for Trevor Birch to resist and the acceptance of the offer saw the player make his way to Sheffield to complete a two part medical and agree personal terms.
That should all be concluded today, making McBurnie a Blade and cutting a deep hole in the Swans squad on the eve of the season opener against Hull City.
Now here comes the unpopular opinion: in my humble opinion the club were right to agree to the deal even though the timing gives us a real problem at the start of the season with extremely limited options up front. Yes, we might struggle a little in our opening games now as we adapt to life without our main striker but adapt we will.
Now that adaptation might come in the form of a new signing and the club has had plenty of time to compile targets given the Blades’ long pursuit of McBurnie and our need to bring in another forward anyway. It might come in the unlikely shape of Borja Baston who suddenly found himself being defrosted for ther last two pre-season friendlies after being so far out in the cold he made Merthyr look like a tropical paradise.
And this might be another unpopular opnion: despite Oli’s goals we actually played better without him last season (again in my humble view). The periods where we played with a rotating front three of James/Routledge/Celina saw our most incisive and attacking football. Of course Dan James is no longer here either but there’s nothing to say that with another signing combined with what’s here Cooper can’t construct another forward line that can collectively get goals.
Not Cashing In
I might as well deliver a hat-trick of unpopular opinions so here’s the third: don’t blame the club for selling! This is not a case of “the Americans cashing in”. Far from it. Our American owners have completely turned their backs on the mess they helped create and have installed Trevor Birch to clean up the financial disasters of relegation and a failed roofing merchant’s transfer policy. We are nothing to Kaplan & Levien now but a post-it note in their “sports portfolio” until such time as they can sell us and get most of their money back.
It means that the decision to finally sell McBurnie has come to Birch and he will have weighed up all the pros and cons before greenlighting the sale. The fear was that if we weren’t in with a chance of promotion in January we’d have to sell anyway and we’d get a far lower price. You add that to the financial pressure we are under, Sheffield United’s persistence and – let’s face it – willingness to overpay and the deal was the right one to accept.
If we’d turned it down and McBurnie suffered a cruciate injury or similar in the opening game then everyone would have hammered the club for turning down the money. Who’s to say that McBurnie would ultimately come to grips with Steve Cooper’s style of play? Maybe he’d struggle to repeat last season’s goal tally and again there’d be levels of criticism on a par with those uttered every time Fulham’s £8m bid for Jordan Ayew are mentioned.
Lots of unknowns there but the one fact in all of this is that the sale of McBurnie finally puts the club on a firm financial footing again and that is more important than anything else. Disagree? Just go and have a word with Bolton or Bury fans and then get back to me.
There’s no doubt that losing McBurnie, especially this close to the start of the season, is a hammer blow and it could seriously impair our chances in the Championship. However, let’s be realistic here…we ain’t up for a promotion push, we are still a young squad in transition with an untested manager at a club reeling from the financial effects of relegation from the Premier League. Cooper is right to aim high and ambitiously look to take us up and he may well do a Potter and keep us in contention for the play offs; but mid-table safety with attractive, enjoyable football is the Mission Objective again this season.
Whilst impairing our early efforts in the Championship McBurnie’s sale strengthens the fabric of the club and gives us the ability to be far more stubborn with the jewels we have left in the squad, such as new captain Matt Grimes, Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts and Celina.
It will be a challenge to replace McBurnie’s 20 odd goals but if Borja were to thrive in a Cooper set up and show the form that led to us splashing £15m on him then this piece of business will look like a stroke of genius. Or maybe on the eve of the season we spend a couple of million (not too many I would imagine) and sign a proven Championship goal scorer in addition to the £500k we are set to spend on Swedish winger Kristoffer Petersen, a player that looks like he’ll add physical presence, trickery and long distance shooting to our forward options.
It might come across as though I’m shrugging off and making light of McBurnie’s departure. I’m not. I’ll miss him as much as the next Swans fan. He’s a decent striker that will always get goals in the Championship (not convinced he’ll do so in the Premier League but that’s the Blades’ problem). Where I think we’ll miss him most is in his cult status – there was no better sight than watching the lanky Scottish international with his beard, tattoos and socks rolled down rampaging around the field, fighting anything and everything for our cause. He was a galvanising presence on and off the field.
And truth be told I’m not entirely sure he wants to leave; oh he’s not being pushed out of the door but neither has he agitated for or demanded the move. It’s one of those where the player was perfectly happy to stay but all parties come to a mutually beneficial agreement and the player grabs a chance at a higher level and a bigger pay cheque.
I hope Oli will be a big success at Sheffield United – mostly because the extra millions in add-ons will be much needed in the future – but I also trust the club heirarchy, Birch, Cooper and Leon, to come up with the answer to the question of how we replace him. It may take a little time, it might not take any money, but it can be done.
We’ve lost our talisman but let’s not lose our optimism and excitement for the season to come.