2018-19 Preview: Sheffield United use feelgood factor to maintain challenge

Dean Henderson of Sheffield United during the a friendly match at the Northern Commercials Stadium, Bradford. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
Dean Henderson of Sheffield United during the a friendly match at the Northern Commercials Stadium, Bradford. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
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AS last season was drawing to a close, Chris Wilder not so much dipped his toe in the power struggle enveloping Sheffield United as launched himself at it in a style reminiscent of the tough-tackling full-back’s playing days.

The Blades chief refused to hold back when publicly outlining his fears over the tug of war raging between Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah Bin Mosa’ad Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Sheffield United were unable to hold on to David Brooks (Picture: SportImage)

Sheffield United were unable to hold on to David Brooks (Picture: SportImage)

Included in this heart-felt plea to the two warring joint owners was a threat to walk away if the situation did not improve.

To the relief of Blades fans everywhere, the words brought the desired effect and Wilder had his assurances within a fortnight of the 2017-18 season ending. A new contract was duly signed in late May.

Fast forward a little over two months and the boardroom wrangling continues, McCabe and Prince Abdullah having recently set out their respective arguments to take full control in the High Court. Wilder, though, is more than happy to now leave the politics to others.

“We sorted out a few things that concerned me,” says the 50-year-old when asked by The Yorkshire Post about the uncertainty surrounding Bramall Lane as the close season got under way.

Nothing really changes in the Championship. Is it stronger or not than last season? That is yet to be decided.

Chris Wilder

“Going public wasn’t a decision I took lightly. A lot of people knew I was concerned about the direction of the club.

“There was talk of extending the contracts of myself and the coaching staff, way back into last year. The club wanted to commit to us, which was great.

“But certain situations needed resolving and talking about. Which we did. I am glad we did, and that we are all now on the same page as this means I can concentrate on the football.

“Obviously, the situation is still ongoing in many respects but I can’t do anything about that. And I don’t want to, if I am honest.”

All smiles: Chris Wilder

All smiles: Chris Wilder

Wilder’s task since his future was resolved has been the planning for what will be only United’s second season at this level since 2011.

Despite a sluggish transfer market, he has been able to bring in a couple of signings who seem certain to improve the Blades’ backline.

Landing Dean Henderson, League One’s best goalkeeper by some distance when on loan at Shrewsbury Town, was a big coup with the Manchester United goalkeeper having many admirers.

John Egan is another who will bring added quality to a squad that Wilder, borrowing a golfing analogy, insists was among the best in the Championship from “tee to green”.

“What areas can we improve on from last season?” asks Wilder, who still has a £5m bid on the table for Ipswich Town striker Martyn Waghorn.

“Definitely in the goalkeeping area with Dean coming in. We are actively looking for quality at the top of the pitch to supplement the two boys who did fantastically well for us last season.

“Yes, we lost David Brooks (to Bournemouth for an initial £11.5m). That was a disappointment, as I felt he should have stayed for another year to help his development. But it is what it is.”

Even allowing for Wilder’s increased budget this season, United are perhaps best placed in the ‘have-nots’ column of Championship clubs.

“Nothing really changes in the Championship,” adds Wilder, whose side kick-off their season at home to Swansea City a week today in front of the live Sky cameras. “Is it stronger or not than last season? That is yet to be decided.

“But, for every one that has got a transfer embargo and is struggling to sign players, you look at Forest, Middlesbrough again or the teams who have come down and they are all spending big money.

“I maintain there is still a massive conversation to be had about parachute payments. There is also still a massive discussion to be had about FFP (Financial Fair Play) as well in the Football League.

“FFP isn’t working, in terms of how people can skirt round it. Every club to themselves, of course. We live within our means and try to get the best out of what we have been given.

“Look at our opening game, against a team coming out of the Premier League. The second game is against a team (Middlesbrough) who came down only a year ago and who will be one of the favourites again.

“I look at the fixture list and think, ‘This is the where we need to be’. This is the minimum level Sheffield United has to be at.

“Regardless of haves or have-nots in this division, there are some brilliant fixtures to look forward to.”

Hitting the ground running amid such fierce competition will be key once the campaign gets under way. As will harnessing the feelgood factor caused by not just the last two seasons but also Wilder’s future being settled in May.

“I am glad we had the chat and that we are now on the same page,” he says, returning to the ‘will he, won’t he?’ saga of the Spring.

“Of course, I never wanted to leave. And, yes, I would have been disappointed if they had wanted to let us go.

“I have only been here a couple of years, both of which have been great as far as I am concerned. I have loved every minute of it.

“I want to move it forward. Now, we are looking forward to another successful season for this wonderful football club.

“We have got something good going here. There is a fantastic feelgood factor round the place from the supporters. We came ever so close last season, taking it to the 45th game in a division talked about as being powerful. We proved we could handle it.”