New Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is also a fan of the club. It gives him a clear vision of what is required to succeed. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
FRUSTRATION has been the overwhelming emotion down Bramall Lane in recent years.
Five seasons spent seemingly becalmed in League One can do that to a club and their supporters. Chris Wilder, lifelong fan and now manager, appreciates that point as much as anyone.
What the United chief also knows, however, is that those most recent five years have brought plenty of good times, including two stirring Cup runs against all the odds as a third-tier club.
Go back a bit further, say the past quarter of a century or so, and other Cup triumphs spring to mind among promotions and qualifying for big finals at Wembley and the Millennium Stadium.
Wilder’s challenge is to write his own chapter of success, specifically by delivering promotion to the Championship. And to do so, the 48-year-old plans to take inspiration from the two managers who he, as a fan, believes stand out in United’s recent history.
“The two times this club has been truly successful in the past 25 or so years were when the managers were Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock,” said Wilder to The Yorkshire Post.
“You only have to look at the qualities they brought to the club. I am not trying to reinvent myself as those two. Far from it, every manager has to be his own man.
“But it wasn’t a coincidence the club had its best two periods under those guys, managers who knew exactly how they wanted to play and exactly what sort of characters they needed around them. There was an honesty, a grit and a determination about Sheffield United when ‘Harry’ and Neil were in charge.
“Everyone who came to Bramall Lane knew they were in for a game, and that every time they played a team in red and white stripes with a Blades badge, they knew that it was going to be a tough game. We have to earn the right to be competitive as a club. But, first and foremost, we have to bring that honesty back into the club. That is my job.”
Last season was the most frustrating of the five that United have spent in League One. An 11th-place finish was the club’s lowest in 33 years and Wilder, despite being otherwise engaged in 2015-16 leading Northampton Town to the League Two title, shared in that sense of despondency.
“I watched them a few times last year,” he added. “I wasn’t spying on the previous manager, just wanting to watch my team play. If I was around, I’d come down.
“It meant I had an idea as to what I would like to bring in if ever at the club. I also have the finger on the pulse as to how the owners want it to go along with the fans. It is their club, let’s not forget. I speak the same language as them.
“Looking at things from the outside, I felt the club was a bit split. I had the same feeling when I first arrived. The Academy were down the road, the club staff were in another place. Then there was the media, the players and the supporters all not connected.
“My job was to pull all that together. It isn’t always about what happens on the grass, things off the field also make a difference.”
For the sixth year running, United will start as clear favourites to win League One.
To do so, Wilder believes, another tradition will have to be revived.
“Historically, this is a hard-working football club,” said Wilder. “A club of the common people, and we have to get that back.
“Football is a simple game and it is important not to get too caught up in complicating it.
“Of course, we want to give ourselves the best chance with our preparation and we want to play decent football.
“The game is all about attitude coming above everything else. If you have a team that is committed and has a great attitude then, first and foremost, you give yourself an opportunity of being successful.
“I did feel the club had lost a bit of its identity. That does happen at clubs from time to time.
“We are a big fish in this pond, but we have to get back to being humble and working our socks off. I want to bring that work ethic to the club and that is what I will demand from the players.”