Chris Wilder has defended his January loan signings after they came in for public criticism from Prince Abdullah this week.
Chris Wilder said: “I’ve always said it’s not always the players who play the 38 games who are the most important,” If I look back to the season we went up – Dowell, who scored against West Brom, Hogan, who scored against Ipswich, and Gary Madine, they played huge parts in terms of getting those points. Even sometimes when players don’t play, like a couple of boys last year, they keep the standard of the group high, they keep the players’ performance honest and drive those boys on. You never know the eventualities what you have to cover, I haven’t got a crystal ball of what’s around the corner. Especially with what has happened this year, it has hit home to us even more but it’s not a straightforward decision, other things the board have to evaluate in making that decision as I have said, I will respect that and hopefully I’ll get respected for having my opinion on it as well because I am going to (have an opinion).”
The two deals Prince Abdullah made specific reference to were the ones last season involving Panos Retsos and Richairo Zivkovic. The pair arrived in January 2020 to strengthen a squad pushing for a European place. Retsos came with some pedigree having played in the Champions League and for his country and represented a shrewd move. Bayer Leverkusen splashed £15m on the Greek international to take him from Olympiakos to the Bundesliga, but he featured just once for United, as a substitute in the FA Cup victory at Reading. Former Ajax striker Zivkovich arrived from Chinese side Changchun Yatai and featured a lot more, coming off the bench on five occasions. However, due to the form of the players last season and fortune with injuries, the pair were not needed, but should they have suffered an injury crisis like they are currently doing, it meant there was sufficient quality to cover.
Chris Wilder added: “They worked because we finished ninth in the Premier League and in the quarter-final of the FA Cup, Whatever team goes out to play, if I have got some really good players who are not playing that cost a couple of quid and the team on the pitch cost nothing, but is winning games of football, then I don’t think anyone is bothered if I am totally honest. You have to compose and construct a squad of players and you have to do it in terms of position-specific, what happens and can we change formation? Panos was a Greek international who played in a number of positions, he played centre half and right of a three, but Basham was outstanding and John Egan was outstanding in the second half of the season, so he couldn’t force his way in. But in my opinion if any of those two boys got injured he would have stepped in and there would have been no difference in team performance and results.”
Zivkovich, in particular, was brought in with an eye on this season. The Dutch forward had raw pace and Wilder, fairly confident in January that barring a disaster their status in the division was all but secured, had already turned his attentions to this campaign. Aware that United’s forward line needed an injection of speed, which Oliver Burke has since provided in another clever piece of business, Zivkovich arrived to allow the coaching staff to have a close look.
Chris Wilder added: “Zivkovich was a little bit of a different one because he would have possibly come on a bargain deal in terms of a fee, so Richairio was one that allowed us an opportunity to have a look. I believed we needed pace up top for this year, so he came to us on a little bit of a play before you pay scenario and the biggest thing is we looked at him on the training ground as well. He had contributions as well, he came on the pitch a couple of times, but also from a players’ point of view when you see a couple of really good players who come in it keeps the standards high of the other players because it sees we are bringing decent players in, which they were. For them not to get on the pitch was obvious that we played well enough to finish in the position we did and the players produced performances to get in that position. From Richairo’s point of view, he possibly didn’t do as well as we might have wanted him to do but he didn’t really get the opportunities because of the players and the form they were in.”
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