SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Chris Wilder has revealed how a ‘classy touch’ from talismanic Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne helped crystallise the respect that his Blades side have earned among the Premier League’s top echelons.
The moment came shortly after the final whistle of the Blades’ recent 2-0 loss at the Etihad Stadium, with the two sides reconvening for the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane just 24 days on.
Wilder was loathe to go into specific detail regarding the exact words of praise delivered by the gifted Belgian play-maker, but his pride at the sincerity of message was palpable.
That was an occasion when United were hugely unfortunate to lose out – having matched Pep Guardiola’s feted champions from a footballing perspective.
Regardless of the scoreline, it represented another moment which further cemented the Blades’ status as one of big top-flight success stories of 2019-20.
Up close and personal on the night against us, he was an amazing performer. But he had the humility as well. It was not just walking off the pitch with another three points and brush a promoted club in Sheffield United aside. He had the class and humility to say some nice things. In the heat of a Premier League game and a tough one for us, that was great.Chris Wilder
As is Wilder’s way, points as well as kind words are something that he is ultimately striving for this evening to further showcase his side’s ‘outstanding news story’, which he spoke about ahead of the weekend trip to Arsenal.
Wilder, whose side can jump above Manchester United into fifth place if they claim a famous win over the blue half of Manchester tonight, said: “One of the classiest things I have witnessed this year – and there have been a couple where you wander over to the referee and bump into a few of the players – were a couple of words that Kevin said to us, which I will keep personal.
“It was a real classy touch. Up close and personal on the night against us, he was an amazing performer. But he had the humility as well. It was not just walking off the pitch with another three points and brush a promoted club in Sheffield United aside.
“He had the class and humility to say some nice things. In the heat of a Premier League game and a tough one for us, that was great.
“For us, there have been different challenges in this journey. The journey in League One was that we had to start humble and respect every team we played; maybe that was an issue before.
“You step into the Championship and respect is earned and gained at the final whistle, not before. You move into the Premier League and the Manchester Citys and Liverpools do it week in, week out.
“There is a huge amount of respect, but only to a certain level. It is a competitive game of football and we are here to compete not to swap shirts and take pictures, we are here to win games for our football club, while understanding what we are up against.”
Top-flight rivals may not have known too much about those in the red and white of Sheffield United before a ball was kicked in August. They certainly do now.
With that brings potential challenges, with Wilder streetwise enough to accept that the names of some of his star turns may be on the radar of the top-flight’s establishment.
At the weekend, Jack O’Connell was linked with Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, while Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton are reportedly admirers of John Egan.
Speculation goes with the territory for players who step up from the Championship and successfully acclimatise in the big time and Wilder accepts it is ultimately a price of success.
Wilder, who has expressed his confidence in bringing in one or two new faces in the next week – with out-of-favour Nottingham Forest left-back Jack Robinson understood to be close to securing a move – said: “It is a moving market. In terms of players coming in and I cannot sit here and say that any of my (main) players might not move on, as well – ones that we maybe do not want to move on.
“That is just the way football is. We always have to be ready and quickly react to any business that happens – whether it is out or ins.
“I want to keep all the boys. There are certain players we have talked about that will be playing their football elsewhere next year. But the main ‘actors’ – and there are quite a few of them – I want to keep and build and be part of hopefully a decent future ahead of us.”
Ongoing talks with several contracted players about signing extended deals is very much part of that planning and while Wilder has no specific time-scale regarding their conclusion or otherwise, the clock is ticking.
Wilder, hopeful that David McGoldrick will return to his squad tonight, said: “I know there’ll be a bit of negotiation involved. But you just like to get it wrapped up.
“But they will come to a point, of course. That is not here now, but I have got to be certain about who wants to be a part of what we are trying to achieve.
“I am still comfortable that the majority have still got a lot left on their contracts. But when it does run down or get close, you have to make a decision. But we nowhere near that at the moment.
“That door is always open (to leave) and there are no guns towards anyone’s heads to stay here. I would like to think players would have the guts to say: ‘it is not for me, I want to move on.’
“But I am 100 per cent certain that is not the case with any of the players.”
Last six games: Sheffield United DLLWWD; Manchester City WWWWWD.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Last time: Sheffield United 2 Manchester City 1, January 27, 2008; FA Cup.