STUART McCALL last night insisted there is only a slight regret at turning down the chance to manage Sheffield United as he prepares to face his former club for the first time since being offered the Bramall Lane job.
League One’s first 20,000-plus crowd of the season is expected today as Bradford City host the Blades.
Just a point separates United from the second-placed Bantams in the table so the stage is set for a Titanic derby between teams whose respective managers played for the other club.
McCall, who spent five years at the Lane as a player and then Neil Warnock’s assistant, was offered the Blades job in the summer of 2013 but turned it down to stay at Motherwell, whom he had just led to runners-up spot in the Scottish Premier League.
“It came when the time probably would have been right to move on from Motherwell,” McCall told The Yorkshire Post when asked about a summer that ended with David Weir being appointed at the Lane.
“We had lost seven first-team players. I went to speak to Sheffield United but, unfortunately, it was at a time when the club was having to tighten its belt. They wanted a five-year plan, as opposed to a ‘there and now plan’.
“I also knew Bradford and Rotherham had just come up (from League Two) and what their budgets were, and Sheffield United weren’t going to be matching either.
“I’d had such a tough and disappointing time at Bradford, a club close to my heart – and I didn’t want to go to another club who are close to my heart and struggle.
“As much as it hurt me to knock the job back because it was something I was excited about when the prospect first came up, I also had a sense of loyalty to Motherwell.
“They had given me a route back in. Plus, we were having European football again that season. There was also the fact I could keep doing my Scotland job if at Motherwell.
“It just didn’t feel right to leave. But, then, lo and behold, Sheffield United got taken over by the prince two months later and the budget went back up. That is the only regret I have, if I am honest.”
It was September, 2013, that Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Abdulaziz Al Saud bought a 50 per cent stake in the Blades and the immediate talk was of a push for not just the Championship but also the Premier League.
More than three years on, however, United are still languishing in the third tier with Weir, Nigel Clough and Nigel Adkins all having tried and failed to take the club up.
That task has now fallen to Chris Wilder, who, like McCall, will be taking on a former employer after spending the 1997-98 season at Valley Parade.
“You can’t get away from it, this game stands out,” said the former full-back. “If we look at the clubs in League One – and taking ourselves out of it – if you look at the teams who will last the pace, I believe Bradford will be one of the favourites to get out of the division.
“There are similarities between the two clubs. Both are working-class clubs and both draw big crowds. I am sure Bradford will be looking at themselves, not as a League One club but a Championship club.”
For McCall, today’s derby represents the biggest game of the season so far in League One.
“If someone finishes above Sheffield United, it is fair to say they will probably be going up,” added the former Scotland international.
“They are on a roll now. There will be sticky points in the season, there always are. But the depth of squad and the quality together with the momentum Sheffield United now have makes them a big threat.
“I don’t really know Chris, though someone did remind me this week that I nicked Wayne Jacobs off him at Halifax a few years ago to bring him here as my assistant. Mind, we had to pay for Jakes, and that probably kept Halifax afloat!
“He is a good football man and has his dream job, being a Sheffield United man. He did terrifically well at Halifax, Oxford and then Northampton. All stepping-stones to this job, which is where he will have always wanted to be.
“Under Chris, Sheffield United will be right up there and, I’d imagine in their eyes, they are targeting automatic.”
Big match preview: Page 5