WHEN TALK inevitably switched to his good mate Steve Bruce ahead of tonight’s fixture at Bramall Lane, Chris Wilder afforded himself a spot of levity.
The Sheffield United manager and lifelong ‘Blade’ quipped that his friendship could resume again with his Newcastle United counterpart after Bruce’s summer decision to make a return to his own boyhood club after a spell at Sheffield Wednesday.
Bruce might even get a warm reception from Unitedites in the process, laughed the United chief.
Joking aside, the respect and cordiality between Wilder and Bruce, two down-to-earth ‘football people’ who are cut from similar cloth has been evident for a number of years.
Both are at the helm of hometown clubs who tug on their heartstrings more than any other – and are entrusted with handling the pressure that goes with it, as is another top-flight manager in Aston Villa boss Dean Smith.
The credit that Wilder and Smith have in the bank among their respective fanbases after overseeing last season’s glorious promotions is high and both can walk on the equivalent of water.
I think he might get a standing ovation, especially from the punters behind the dug out where my mates sit! I have always liked him. It just got put on pause (after joining Sheffield Wednesday). Now it is ‘play’ again.Chris Wilder
By contrast, Bruce, an underwhelming choice among many Newcastle supporters when he was named as the successor to Rafa Benitez, who enjoyed deification levels across Tyneside just as Kevin Keegan did earlier, has found it harder going.
Given that, it makes Newcastle’s position outside the relegation zone, when a season of upheaval was the almost universal prediction of countless doom-mongers in the north-east ‘goldfish bowl’, as laudable, given what Bruce had to contend with.
On the pitfalls of managing ‘your’ club, Wilder acknowledges: “There is huge pressure on you, maybe a little bit more.
“We have had good results for three years which makes day to day life a little easier.
“But everyone knows football management is about results and that is what we have to get.
“You do have to separate yourself from it (the emotion). You cannot make the right decisions if you are jumping about and do not have a clear head.
“Of course, there is emotion. It is an emotional game before and after for Steve and I and Dean at Villa.
“But maybe that is doing a bit of a disservice to other managers in the Premier League, who are passionate about their clubs.”
The last time that Wilder faced Bruce across the dug-out was amid the cauldron of a Steel City derby at Hillsborough nine months ago, with the Newcastle chief one of just two people to manage both Sheffield clubs; the other being Danny Wilson.
Bruce never ran the gauntlet at the Lane as Owls chief, although he is no stranger to Unitedites following his 11-month spell in charge in the late Nineties.
As for his reception tonight, Wilder quipped: “I don’t know what reception Steve will get.
“I think he might get a standing ovation, especially from the punters behind the dug out where my mates sit!
“I have always liked him. It just got put on pause (after joining Sheffield Wednesday). Now it is ‘play’ again.
“To work in the Premier League for a long time as he has, that tells you what Steve is about. “You do not get given jobs in this division and then stay there if you are bang average.
“And Steve is not bang average, either as a manager or a person.”
With a points haul comfortably outstripping the number of Premier League games that they have played so far, Wilder’s side are well on target to their self-declared aim of survival at the start of the season, but those who know the Blades chief will realise he is not somebody to rest easy.
It is not solely down to avoiding any vestiges of complacency, but more to do with the fact that he wants his Blades side to strive for more and not be satisfied.
In some respects, it is akin to the sentiments of another Sheffielder in Howard Wilkinson who famously challenged Leeds United players to be reach high when he took over in the late Eighties.
Wilkinson said: “There is a plane sitting on the runway. It is going to take off and it is going to fly. You have three weeks to decide whether you want to get on it or not.”
That is something that Wilder will equate to in his own way.
Wilder, whose side boast an unbeaten away league record this term and have not seen their colours lowered in their past seven matches, observed: “It was something we talked about before the Tottenham game.
“It is constantly drilled in to them. ‘Are we happy with what we have got? Or do we want more?’
“We have got a healthy points total but it won’t look so healthy if we stand back and admire what we have done because other people will overtake us.
“It has been a solid, decent start. But that is what it is; a start. This is the start of a huge part of the season for us.
“We do not want to leave it until January, February and March to win football matches.
“There is one coming up and we want to attack it.”