Former player and boyhood fan Wilder left Bramall Lane in March after both sides decided his increasingly difficult relationship with the board was becoming untenable. Wilder had been at odds over recruitment – with attempts to reduce his influence – wage structure and transfer budgets, and owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was unhappy with the quality of many of his summer signings.
At the time, Sheffield United were 12 points adrift of safety with 22 defeats in 28 Premier League matches. Interim manager Paul Heckingbottom has been unable to save them from the seemingly inevitable relegation.
But this season Norwich City’s Daniel Farke and Hull City’s Grant McCann led their clubs to the Championship and League One titles respectively having overseen relegation in 2020.
Leeds United coach Bielsa would have liked Wilder, who won promotions with the Blades in 2017 and 2019 and led them to ninth in last season’s Premier League, to get that opportunity.
“I would like to recognise Sheffield United and the great manager who produced all of that (success) with them,” said Bielsa in his pre-match press conference for tomorrow’s trip to Burnley, another club which has reaped the rewards of sticking with a manager relegated with them.
“I regretted that he couldn’t continue his job and attempt a new story with Sheffield United to have got them promoted having dropped down to the Championship. It’s a sign of how unjust football can be.”
Wilder and Bielsa were rivals during the latter’s first season in English football, with the Sheffielder beating the Argentinian to promotion from the Championship. Despite very different backgrounds and methods, both are real football lovers who built a mutual admiration.
Sean Dyche was manager when Burnley were relegated from the Premier League in 2014-15, his second full season at Turf Moor. The Clarets stood by him, won the Championship 12 months later, and have been in the top division ever since, qualifying for the Europa League in 2018-19.
“Imagine the merit in that,” said Bielsa of Dyche bringing the club straight back up. “It’s the same thing the manager of Norwich did (this season). As a fan of football, it’s what I would have hoped the manager of Sheffield United could have done.”
Leeds are in the running to match the Blades’ top-half finish in their first season back in the Premier League, albeit equalling their ninth place might be a step too far.
Victory over a Burnley team who have had impressive wins in their last two away games will be a big help, and Bielsa has a pretty healthy squad to choose from for the lunchtime kick-off.
Helder Costa’s season has been ended by a back injury, Adam Forshaw has not featured for more than 18 months and youngster Joe Gelhardt has a problem but with captain Liam Cooper fit and free from suspension, Bielsa has an array of options.
“Not having injured players shouldn’t be interpreted as something difficult but I understand what you’re asking,” replied Bielsa when asked if he faced some tricky choices.
He added: “Having so many options, the decisions become more difficult.”
His biggest is perhaps between Cooper and Pascal Struijk at left-sided centre-back and Bielsa admits he is unsure which way to go.
Cooper has missed the last four matches firstly through suspension following a red card at Manchester City, then a minor injury which stopped him facing Tottenham Hotspur. In his absence Struijk has continued an impressive maiden season in the Premier League.
“I also ask myself this question,” said Bielsa when questioned who he will opt for.
“Pascal has had very good performances and Cooper as our captain has also had great performances but over a long period of time. Both things are valuable.
“This sudden emergence of Pascal and everything Cooper has done establishes a big difference.
“I can’t give you a concrete response because I also don’t have an absolute idea but what is ideal is that for any one position you have more than one option.
“This improves, Pascal, Cooper and Leeds.”
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