AS a manager and an individual, Chris Wilder is clearly someone who prides himself on never forgetting his roots.
Given his unpolished upbringing in the managerial game, plugging away on the shop floor and getting his hands dirty at the likes of Alfreton and Halifax, the notion of success coming easily will always be something the Sheffield United chief will be wary of. It has to be earned.
One of the things I do not want to happen is that the atmosphere changes around the place to a negative one.Chris Wilder
The good times may have returned over the past few seasons to his boyhood club, but Wilder is the first to recall what it took to get there – and what it will take again for the Blades to continue their upward trajectory, with nothing taken as a given.
The Blades manager is quick to recognise just how far his club have travelled in the past two seasons. On the same weekend two years ago, Wilder will still recall his deep-seated hurt following United’s 2-1 defeat at Millwall, which extended his run without a league win at the start of his tenure to four matches.
The Blades propped up League One and were resident in the bottom four alongside the likes of Rochdale and Wimbledon. Those times stick with you.
Two years on and the expectation among many Unitedites revolve around a concerted play-off push in the club’s quest to return to the Premier League ‘promised land’ – after a lengthy flirtation with the Championship top six in 2017-18 before falling away in late season.
Some view it as the ‘natural progression’ after a 10th-placed finish last term, but the grounded Wilder is determined to keep it real and recall just where the Blades have come from.
Wilder, seeking a first home league win of the season at the expense of Norwich City this afternoon, said: “People do say if we finished where people possibly expected us to finish (last season) and maybe should have finished in terms of where our budget was sat, we would be looking to improve that.
“That possibly would have been sat below halfway (last season). But we did not and would not change a thing for what we did last time with how we went about it and the experiences and memories.
“We want to go again. But we have to keep our feet on the ground and know it is a long season and to not get too carried away when we win or too down when we do not get the results we want.”
The Blades’ story of the past two seasons has been a wholesome one, but success has spawned much expectation and a hankering for more, which brings its own challenges.
Early-season defeats to Swansea and Middlesbrough were the cue for much deflation among sections of the Blades fanbase. More than was necessary if you listen to Wilder, anxious that his side are not over-burdened with levels of pressure over the coming weeks and months and do not become victims of their own success of the last two years.
Wilder said: “We do at times have to be careful that we do not heap too much pressure (on players). It is a pressure, but we are still punching above our weight, big time. If we do that, I have no problem with that.
“Obviously we feel there was, because of the first two results, a bit of this, that and the other.With what we have done in the summer and the players we have brought in, compared to the last pre-season and because of the results and performances, expectations have gone through the roof and we have created that. That does add a bit of pressure.
“One of the things I do not want to happen is that the atmosphere changes around the place to a negative one. I do not think the players, me and the staff deserve that because of what we did last season. We are working to repeat that and will only be able to judge that at the end of the season.
“Who is to say we might get off to a little bit of a slower start and then come through on the rails like someone such as Millwall did last time? To get the results, we need a positive environment. I always praise the supporters regarding that and that is what we need.”
Wilder’s view that the Blades could well grow into the season and reserve their best for the second half of the campaign – as Millwall did last time – is a realistic stance and possesses good sense in the circumstances.
More especially given the time which will be required to assimilate of a number of key players into a starting line-up which had been reasonably settled for the previous two campaigns.
Wilder, whose side picked up a relieving first win of the season at QPR last weekend, said: “We still have to improve on last season and want to improve on last season. But so does the league (other clubs) with everybody else. Everybody else is doing it in a different manner and fashion.
“We have done it through being smart in terms of what we have had to use, players we have brought in and additions we have made in terms of specific improvements to positions. We think we have done that with John (Egan), Dean (Henderson), Dave McGoldrick, Ben Woodburn and Oli (Norwood) coming into the group and (Jake) Kean.
“Those players make us stronger and we are looking at one or two others when the window shuts. In the meantime, we need to pick up results and play well, but off the back of that, sometimes there are one or two who do not hit the ground running. But they will get up to speed.
“What I am looking for is the general attitude of the group, which is fantastic. The desire to want to do well is just as good if not better than they wanted to do last time. We have to now step up to the plate and produce performances and get results.”