THE fact that Sheffield United have just finished in their lowest league position for 34 years will not have been lost upon Chris Wilder.
A football manager he may be by trade – and a pretty sound one at that given his achievements with the likes of Halifax Town, Oxford United and most latterly Northampton Town, which recently earned him the Football League’s Manager of the Year award.
But he is a Blade from childhood and amid all the celebrations of the past few weeks after presiding over one of the stand-out achievements of 2015-16 in turning the League Two title race into a procession with Northampton, he would have been forgiven for sparing a thought for the club which tugs on his heartstrings the most.
Stocksbridge-born Wilder will not have needed to view the video footage – which has subsequently gone viral – of an apoplectic fan lambasting players walking around the Bramall Lane pitch in an end-of-season ‘lap of ‘honour’ on Sunday to know that an anaemic campaign was beyond the pale for Unitedites.
His status as a Blade means goodwill will be thick on the ground for the 48-year-old, who will see the post as his ultimate calling after a considerable apprenticeship ahead of taking the job that he has always coveted.
However, his depth of feeling for the club that makes his new post not just a professional but a personal responsibility, will not relieve the Blades of their League One purgatory. Although it may help.
Wilder, who will be unveiled to the press this morning alongside assistant Alan Knill at Bramall Lane, has been not been brought back for sentimental reasons. Quite the opposite.
His mission remains the same as that which has confronted Danny Wilson, David Weir, Nigel Clough and most latterly Nigel Adkins and for which they paid the ultimate price for failing to achieve promotion.
Those managers have each had their own persona, footballing philosophies and idiosyncrasies.
Wilson, who comfortably came the closest to succeeding, was a canny operator well versed in the slings and arrows of Football League fortune.
But he was, somewhat ill-advisedly, relieved of his post with the Blades’ season at a critical juncture in April 2013 as a touch of panic set in.
All this after a 90-point haul was recorded in the previous season when, by common consent, the Blades were desperately unfortunate not to be savouring automatic promotion.
David Weir was the ‘school of science’ disciple with immaculate credentials, who espoused passing football with possession nine-tenths of the law – but who proved ill equipped for the Realpolitik of League One.
Clough arrived at the Lane keen to prove a point after some unduly harsh treatment at Derby but, despite some champagne moments in cup competitions, he paid the price for the Blades’ failure to clinch promotion through the play-offs in 2014-15 and some perceived ‘style’ issues.
Then came Adkins, the serial promotion fixer who could not solve the conundrum at the Lane and whose ‘on-message’ utterances failed ultimately to resonate with the Blades’ faithful.
Different options tried and dispensed with.
Now it is Wilder’s turn – if not quite the prodigal son, then the homecoming boy who should be able to ‘connect’ with the Blades, perhaps unlike his predecessors in the past five years.
Unlike the last Unitedite at the club’s helm in Micky Adams, pitted into a desperate relegation fight that he was destined to lose when he succeeded Gary Speed in December 2010, time is on Wilder’s side.
With the Blades toiling after finishing in 11th spot in League One – which equalled their similarly abject finish in 1982-83 –Wilder has time to take stock and plan and can be ruthless in his decision-making.
Adkins was unfortunate in that he took over a squad that was numerically overloaded and top-heavy in several areas.
But the clear-out that he was ready to administer in order to stamp his own imprint on the squad following his arrival last June has been denied him by yesterday’s decision.
That will be entrusted to Wilder, with a numbers of players out of contract and room for manoeuvre to make his own mark.