David Weir had a successful 20-year professional career in both Scotland and England before retiring at the age of 42 last season following a five-year spell with Scottish giants Rangers. After just over a year coaching Everton’s youth teams under David Moyes, the Scot joined Sheffield United earlier this summer, but Weir has been sacked by the Blades after just 13 games in charge with the club now rooted in the relegation places.
With no prior management experience, Weir did look like an odd choice for Sheffield, although it seems he wasn’t owner Kevin McCabe’s first-choice either. Managers such as Motherwell’s Stuart McCall turned down the post for various reasons, leaving the Blades’ owner with a dilemma. McCabe later chose to appoint former Scottish international Weir, who was interestingly also interviewed by Bill Kenwright for the Everton job this summer before the post was given to Roberto Martinez.
David Weir has spent enough time in football to know his stuff both on and off the field. Any player who is able to play at the top level for the length of time that Weir did has to have picked up a good understanding of the game at some point along the line, and it is probably this knowledge that lead to him being hired by United. He also seems to have some tactical nous, because he tried to get his charges to take the ball down on the pitch and play it, which is very respectable at that level. Sometimes this approach doesn’t work, and if a manager doesn’t change their tactical approach when the results start worsening, it could land them in big trouble.
With the players that Sheffield United managed to capture this past summer, it leaves a lot to wonder about why they’re struggling at the moment. Players like Jose Baxter and Florent Cuvelier, along with more experienced heads like Cameron Jerome, joined up at Bramall Lane over the last few months to try and gain promotion back to the Championship under the new manager. Players like Harry Maguire - named player of the year for the last two seasons and an England youth international - are already at the club, and some could argue that they should be fighting for promotion, not rooted to the bottom of the table.
It all started rosily for David Weir’s men this season, before turning south after. Five wins in eight preseason matches before an opening day win over Notts County left everything looking promising for the Blades’ supporters. It’s been over two months since then, and the club’s sole victory occured in the Capital One Cup, a penalty shootout win over Scunthorpe United early in September. This form has left some supporters dissatisfied with their club, despite a major cash investment from the Middle East thanks to Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdul Aziz, who recently bought half of the club and prompted a number of promising players to join.
One of the major problems at Sheffield United is the philosophy. Everyone within the club has high expectations, but the owners don’t have the money to back the ambition, and probably wouldn’t use it even if they did. This is also the case at United’s Sheffield rivals Wednesday, who are currently struggling at the bottom of the second tier and also have little to spend despite a lot of ambition.
To come into a club with such high expectation from both the owners and from the fans could well have been the downfall of David Weir. Both of those groups have had him under pressure from day one, which isn’t exactly the ideal scenario for someone in their first senior management job. He could always have been destined to fail if that’s the case. Unfortunate as it is, it’s a harsh reality in football that often rears its ugly head.
As it stands, former Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder Nigel Clough, who was recently sacked by Championship side Derby County (who his father Brian took to domestic and continental success in the 1960s and 70s) is the favorite to become the new manager at Bramall Lane, and I think that would be a very good choice by them. The Sunderland-born 47 year-old has shown signs of being a good manager with Burton Albion and Derby, and should be able to turn around the fortunes of Sheffield United as well. However, other names such as Stuart McCall have been re-linked with the job, and anything could happen. In the meantime, Chris Morgan, who played for the Blades for nine years and was caretaker manager for a time earlier this year, will take temporary charge until a permanent replacement is found.