Enjoy it, don’t fear it, is Chris Wilder’s message to Sheffield United players

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Ut. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Ut. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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On Saturday, Sheffield United travel to the fancy new home of the Champions League runners-up.

For many in the Blades’ squad, cast aside by Premier League academies at a young age and/or made to work their way up through the leagues as manager Chris Wilder has, it is a fitting reward for years of dedication and determination. It is important, having grafted so hard to get there, they now enjoy it. But not too much.

Wilder’s squad travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium five places and three points above the team who were Europe’s second best last season, although he is not so naïve as to think that will still be the case in May. Having already hosted Liverpool, who beat Spurs in Istanbul, and visited Stamford Bridge, Goodison Park and the London Stadium, these are heady times for a club in League One as recently as 2017.

Fortunately, Wilder has complete confidence his players will not let it or their sixth place in the Premier League go to their heads.

“It is about getting the balance right, (visiting) these special grounds, but then putting a performance in,” he stressed. “That’s always been the message, and it has to be right the way through the season: enjoy the Premier League, who you are playing against and where you are playing them, but don’t fear it.”

Just as it is easy to see how players could get carried away by the glamorous experiences awaiting them this season – Manchester United are at Bramall Lane the following week – so they could forget to enjoy their rewards.

“If you think people are getting like that, you jump all over it,” said Wilder. “But I don’t think I’ll have to do that while I’m here because that attitude and hunger is one of the biggest things.”

Tottenham’s new ground is widely regarded as one of the best in the world and while Wilder has seen it, he has not been inside.

“Visiting this stadium, as a Premier League team, is probably on a lot of our supporters’ bucket lists,” he commented.

“I said to the wife, rather than take the M11 which is the quick way home after West Ham, let’s go another way and take a look at it. We got stuck in traffic and so I saw it, this spaceship on the horizon, for longer than I thought I would!”

So far in 2019, Tottenham’s domestic football is not really living up to their grandiose surroundings. Since winning their first three league games in the new stadium, they have only won three more there and none away. With their playing and coaching resources, it is not a situation Wilder expects to last much longer.

“It quickly changes,” he warned. “We are fortunate enough to have a few more points than Tottenham now but I think a betting man would stick a few quid on them being above us at the end of the season.

“Even I would if I was allowed to bet on football!

“Scratch beneath the surface, what you’ve got is one of the world’s top managers (Mauricio Pochettino) coaching and managing some of the best players in the country.

“I have a lot of admiration for how they work their players. They have an identity in how they play and within a collective group, they’ve got world-class individuals.

“One result will get them going, they can’t fail with the talent they have got.”

Equally, Wilder is determined his team will not get carried away by their own, much more positive, start to the campaign. Having performed creditably but lost to Liverpool, then deservedly beaten Arsenal, the Blades kept their standards up with an impressive 3-0 win at home to the normally-obdurate Burnley.

“It’s not how you start, it’s where you finish,” said Wilder. “It’s a good start. That’s all it is.

“I’m delighted with the start and the attitude of the players. I’m not looking at the league position because eight or nine points separates any number of clubs. We are looking forward and not looking back.

“I’m not getting carried away and that changing room won’t.
“It gives the fans a bounce in their step but the players know it’s a long old season. We spoke at the start of the season that we were going into the best division and that there would be plenty of debate about that. There has been and they’ve coped with it.

“The Champions League final was played between two English clubs and the favourites, another English club (Manchester City), were not even in the final.”

A good start really helps newly-promoted sides, who tend to struggle more for points in the second half of Premier League seasons. Wilder will not be rolling out any excuses if the same happens at Bramall Lane.

“If we drop our standards in the second half of the season, it’s because we’ve dropped our standards,” he said bluntly, “not because of focus or anything like that.

“Spurs will have had us watched, individually and collectively, for the last two years. You’d be amazed how much analysis goes on now.”