Royalty on the board, a rabble on the pitch. That is the present reality for Sheffield United and the intrigue now is over what the future holds. The Saudi prince who this week bought a 50% stake in the club – Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – announced on Saturday that he is targeting a return to the Premier League within five years but he then watched as Rotherham showed how difficult that could prove by trouncing his new charges.
"I am really passionate about sport and in particular I love English football," said the prince. "I had aspirations to buy a Championship club and take it to the Premier League – that was until I met [Sheffield United co-owner] Kevin [McCabe] in London. He talked to me about the Blades and its proud history and after another long discussion I fell in love with the club." His love is set to be tested. So is the deepness of his pockets.
On the subject of finances the prince was unusually forthcoming. "My money is on record. I own 50% of Saudi Paper, which is quoted on the stock exchange, and to that you can add maybe 5 or 10%," he said. Saudi Paper Manufacturing is worth £240m, which suggests the Prince's fortune is around £130m. He intimated that he is prepared to plough around one-fifth of that into United and, significantly, will use his contacts to seek partners even more wealthy than himself. League One clubs have signed up to a salary cap but, with creative accounting and judicious use of the loan market over the coming months, the new money should still be able to take them a long way.
It remains to be seen how patient the prince proves with David Weir. The former Everton defender is taking his first strides in management and clearly has lofty ideals but this latest defeat compounded a bad start that leaves United 19th in the third tier, a world away from where their owners and supporters believe they should be.
Blades fans had mixed feelings ahead of the visit to Rotherham. On the one hand the opportunity to beat a Yorkshire neighbour is always welcome but, on the other, consorting with a small club they view as a natural subordinate was a reminder of how far they have fallen. But snootiness towards the Millers is misplaced. In the past two years the club has risen in a way that others would do well to emulate. A capacity crowd in their bijou New York stadium acclaimed a victory that put Steve Evans' newly promoted side into the play-off places.
The Blades played the tidy possession football Weir is trying to foster but, other than when Tony McMahon struck a free-kick against the bar in the third minute, they did not look dangerous. When they finally deviated from predictability they took the lead, Jose Baxter firing a shot in at the near post from an acute angle.
Evans adjusted his tactics at half-time, switching to a 4-4-2 formation to apply more pressure on the visitors. That was all it took for them to crumble. In the 51st minute Kieran Agard took possession from a long ball and, as the defenders looked on impotently, sent a 25-yard shot into the net. Weir's first-choice goalkeeper, George Long, is away with England Under-21s and the back-up, Mark Howard, should have done better.
The visitors wilted further. In the 71st minute Neil Collins clunked into Daniel Nardiello in the box and the striker lashed in the resultant penalty. Two minutes later Rob Milsom profited from shaky defending to find the net.
"It's going to be very difficult to win matches if you commit that level of mistakes," said Weir. In the first half the visiting members of the sell-out crowd were crowing: "We are richer than you!" They fell silent when confronted with the evidence that that does not make them better than anyone. At least not yet.