The battle against Premier League relegation is all but lost. Even winning at home to Aston Villa tonight, with none of the injured players who missed Sunday’s defeat expected back, will only narrow the gap to safety to 12 points with 11 matches left.
The big battle now is for what happens next. The manager was not disguising he could be one of its first casualties.
“I don’t know,” was Wilder’s blunt reply when asked if he would be at Bramall Lane next season. Chairman Prince Musaad bin Khalid Al Saud has been very vocal in his support but words are not what he wants.
Asked if he hoped to stay, he replied: “Yep, definitely, yep. If we stick to the plan.”
Reaching the Premier League is not always the positive it ought to be. Bradford City are in League Two with Bolton Wanderers and Oldham Athletic, League One is clogged up with former top-flight clubs. Wilder wants to be one of those that comes back stronger.
Training-ground redevelopment plans have not come to pass. Wilder – rightly – believes they must. Keeping the squad together is vital to him, but infrastructure will outlast them.
“The plan was always to leave a legacy, change things off the pitch, stick with the players we’ve invested in, and try to add a few,” he explained.
“I want people to say, ‘He was all right, him.’ I want to put the club in a better position than I found it in 2016.”
Money spent on players will always attract most attention but other investment is vital too.
“I know what happened at Sunderland, Swansea, Fulham,” said Wilder. “That’s the reason two years ago I didn’t say, ‘We need to give everybody 80 grand a week and spend £200m, £300m,’ then find out we can’t pay the wages, all the players don’t want to play in the Championship and we’re going to have to make Denise, who’s been working here for 20, 25 years, and Sue Bramhall, who’s been at the club since I walked in in 1986, redundant.
“When Neil Warnock was here, we had really good success and got in the Premier League for a year but nothing changed.
“Barnsley had a pitch I used to play on for Sheffield Boys round the back of the away end and that was their training ground. If you go now and look at what they have, their academy produced John Stones, Mason Holgate, James Bree and a lot of good young players, and the facilities were a legacy of them being in the Premier League. Facilities are incredibly important in terms of the academy but attracting and improving (first-team) players as well because we’re an improving, teaching football club.
“I’ll leave in time, when that happens I don’t know.”
Blades fans had better hope it is later rather than sooner.
Last six games: Sheffield United LLLWLW; Aston Villa LWLLLW.
Referee: P Tierney (Wigan).
Last time: Sheffield United 2 Aston Villa 0, December 14, 2019, Premier League.