Sheffield United could have been forgiven for spending the international break basking in their position at the summit of the Championship table.
The Blades are the division’s early pacesetters having picked up 25 points from the opening 12 games.
Further proof of the success story at Bramall Lane came with the exodus of Blades players over the last fortnight on international call-ups.
Ten United players – including six first-teamers – were on international duty, leaving Blades manager Chris Wilder with a depleted squad with which to work at Shirecliffe training ground.
Those absent included Republic of Ireland duo Enda Stevens and John Egan, Wales pair Kieron Freeman and Ben Woodburn, Northern Ireland’s Ollie Norwood, and England Under-21 goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
“When you are doing well, playing decent football, people will get recognition,” said Wilder.
“I don’t know if Sheffield United has had so many players going away on international duty for quite some time.
“No disrespect, but the Wales and the Northern Irelands, the home nations, our group is built around that – and they look at the top end of the Championship.”
Wing-back Freeman is probably the player to benefit most from United’s fine start, winning his first Wales call-up four years after he last turned out for his country’s Under-21s.
“It’s reward for his start to the season, and I am not surprised,” said Wilder. “I’ve not seen Kieron yet. He might have some pink boots or white boots on, but they’ll get taken off him, don’t worry about that.
“It’s good to get recognition and it doesn’t do any harm for other people to know they are good players. It doesn’t do them any harm to get international recognition and get new experiences.”
United return to Championship action tomorrow with a tough trip to Derby County, managed by Frank Lampard. The career paths of the respective managers could not be further apart.
Fifty-one-year-old Wilder enjoyed a modest playing career at the likes of the Blades, Rotherham United and Halifax Town then worked up the coaching ladder via stints at Halifax, Oxford and Northampton.
In contrast, Lampard – now 40, and a former Champions League winner with Chelsea and England midfield stalwart – has been catapulted into management at ambitious Derby.
Different paths, but the pair have arrived at the same place, managing in the Championship.
Wilder said: “Instead of not getting paid at Halifax, putting petrol in my car and getting it declined and having to sell my house about three times.... no, I’ve not had the experiences of other managers. Other managers have not had the experiences I’ve had.
“It’s a difficult job, we all understand that. Frank will understand that as much as anyone else. He’s been a top player and you don’t get to the heights he did without having that inner drive and determination.
“He’ll have gone in to this to replicate what he did as a player.
But it’s a different ball game,” he added. “You don’t get handed anything now because of what you did as a player.
“It doesn’t come any tougher than Saturday. There’s a whole host of teams who will be wanting to pick up wins between now and Christmas and put themselves in a position to kick on.”