NO-ONE could ever accuse Chris Wilder of forgetting his roots – both in life and football.
Sheffield United may be fully deserving of enjoying the trappings of the Premier League high life, where every ‘game-day’ is the equivalent of star-studded theatre, but, refreshingly, the Blades chief has never lost touch with where he has come from and the humble, working-class values which have forged him.
This famously being a man who is still known to catch the bus in his home city and go for a haircut to the same place that he always has done in Sheffield.
This attitude sheds a light on why, fresh from ‘glamour’ trips to the Emirates Stadium, Anfield and the Etihad Stadium in his side’s last three away fixtures that today’s game at a far less fashionable location in the New Den is right up Wilder’s street.
Going to Millwall is about as far removed from the sanitised world of the top-flight as it gets.
A bearpit of an atmosphere at its best, it represents an examination of mental fortitude and character. More especially on FA Cup fourth-round weekend, given Millwall’s proud association with the Cup.
Millwall is a working-class club and a tough place. You have got to be strong mentally and physically, but still have to play football.Chris Wilder
For the vast majority of his players who have been brought up in the hard yards of League One and Championship combat, it will serve as a reminder of former days; days which helped them to get where they are now.
On the Millwall ‘experience’ Wilder said: “One hundred per cent, there is still a place for that.
“It is different challenges and everyone has got to go through them, whether it is Fylde playing us or going to Anfield or (Manchester) City coming here.
“It is how you adapt and you cannot be set in your ways in the beauty of the game.
“I enjoy these games. It will be a different type of game from Tuesday, but we have to approach it in the same manner.
“We had a proper Sheffield United performance on Tuesday, which was front-foot, aggressive and positive.
“The players will have to produce that on Saturday. They have knocked out so many Premier League teams and will be looking to do same to us.
“I do not like inconsistencies in attitude; it is one of my pet hates and it has to be spot on.
“Millwall is a working-class club and a tough place. You have got to be strong mentally and physically, but still have to play football.
“The reason City won eventually on Tuesday is they were prepared to adapt and understand the challenge on every front and accept the challenge.
“You look at (Aymeric) Laporte after (Mo) Besic nailed him. Nothing went on off the bench and the manager understood it and took it on.”
In the Blades’ remarkable story under Wilder, the name of Millwall already figures prominently.
Famously, it is where United, in their early days under Wilder, suffered a cruel late 2-1 defeat in August, 2016 and propped up League One after four matches.
To lift spirits ahead of the coach trip home, Wilder bought the beers in with a consignment of Stella Artois purchased from an off-licence in Bermondsey.
The Blades never looked back in a season which saw them amass a century of points.
The following season, United’s visit to this corner of South London reinforced Wilder’s insistence upon high standards in no uncertain terms.
The away dressing room remained locked for a fair spell after a 3-1 loss in December, 2017, with the furious Blades chief giving the ‘hair-dryer’ treatment to his players. He has not had to do it too many times since.
On his early visit to the New Den, Wilder said: “It was a tough afternoon and a tough period in what has been a fabulous period personally and for staff and players and the football club.
“We had a bit of pain early on and were still finding out about the players and what suited them. To lose a third game in four was difficult, but you learn.
“It is part and parcel of what management is all about. And as has been well documented, it was quite a long journey back that was eased by a few cans of Stella.
“It is a decent story. But if you had seen me at Halifax for five years, I did it every other Saturday!”
Someone with more recent experience of Millwall – last month in fact – is also relishing the prospect of a fateful appearance at the New Den today in new signing Jack Robinson.
The former Nottingham Forest player was part of a Reds side denied three points by a late Millwall leveller in a 2-2 draw in December and is eyeing a more favourable outcome today.
Speak to the former Liverpool defender and he instantly smacks of being a Wilder-type recruit.
He is a focused worker with no airs and graces and with talent and adaptability in equal measure – someone who will quickly assimilate and gain respect in the Blades’ ultra-close dressing room.
Now under the command of a real ‘football man’ in Wilder, Robinson is preparing for finishing school after having the privilege of being handed a grounding in the game by one of football’s most revered figures in Kenny Dalglish – someone who has always stayed true to his own roots like Wilder.
Robinson, 26, whose most famous FA Cup moment was one he would prefer to gloss over after being part of the Liverpool side who were stunned in a 3-2 loss at Oldham in 2013, said: “Rafa Benitez give me my debut, but I got more opportunities under Kenny Dalglish and I learnt the most under him.
“Sammy Lee was his assistant and he used to take me and Jon Flanagan for extra sessions, teaching me the ins and outs of the game, the little details.
“Kenny for me was a top, top manager and a top bloke as well.
“I think with Kenny it was kind of instant because he is such a nice, humble guy, he relaxed me into it.
“Having him as the manager just eased me into it really well. I never felt under any pressure under Kenny Dalglish and I was able to play some of my best football under him. That is all down to the man he is.”