Sheffield United 2019-20 – Chris Wilder in shape to tackle biggest test with Sheffield United

Ready for challenge: 
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeReady for challenge: 
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Ready for challenge: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
CHRIS WILDER is well aware that the spotlight has rarely shone so brightly on Sheffield United.

Promotion to a Premier League whose profile has grown immeasurably since the Blades were last a member in 2007 means every utterance coming out of Bramall Lane will be dissected and analysed to the nth degree.

As manager, Wilder is set to become as familiar a face around the globe as he is to those United supporters who gravitate towards London Road’s pubs on a match-day.

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Having already had to get used to being recognised more and more over the past couple of years thanks to the club’s sharp rise through the leagues, the 51-year-old knows this and has a cunning plan.

Oliver McBurnie welcomed by manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Simon Bellis/SportimageOliver McBurnie welcomed by manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Oliver McBurnie welcomed by manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“It is why I am trying to put more weight on,” Wilder tells The Yorkshire Post with a big smile when asked about being spotted in the street or supermarket. “Get people to think, ‘No, that can’t be him’.”

Wilder can afford to josh. He is at the very top of his game. Two promotions inside three years have not only revived the fortunes of a club that seemed mired in League One but also turned Wilder into one of the most highly-regarded managers around.

Named ‘Manager of the Year’ by the LMA last May, pipping Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in the process, the former full-back has come a long way since the days when, as one former colleague at Halifax Town recalls, “we would be training on the moors, having to clear the dog s*** away to train”.

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“It has been a tough journey to this point,” admits Wilder when reminded about those early days. “But I have always believed those things that test you along the way turn you into a better person.

“Experience does that. This is a fabulous career to be involved in. I loved my time as a player and I wanted to stay in football.

“All those experiences since going into management are ones I learned from. Good and bad. The last two or three years have brought some fantastic experiences and memories.

“But there have been tough times at all my clubs. You learn from those, get over them and move on – and be a better manager for it.”

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Wilder’s coaching career began when still a player. Bradway FC and the Meadowhall Sunday League are probably as far away from the bright lights of the Premier League as possible but the defender worked just as hard as he does today to be a success.

It was the same at Alfreton Town, Halifax, Oxford United and Northampton Town. Likewise, his determination to tackle problems head on.

Cobblers supporters still talk today about one post-match radio interview when a passionate Wilder raged against those holding up a proposed takeover by former Oxford chairman Kelvin Thomas that he felt was in the best interests of the club.

It did not matter that the outburst may backfire on him as manager. Just as it did not when he threatened to walk away from Bramall Lane 15 months ago in response to the boardroom squabbles that earlier this summer reached the High Court. Wilder simply believed something had to be said so he said it.

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“That is just how I am,” he added. “You have to have that drive and that passion to do this job. You can’t ask your players to show those qualities if you don’t possess them in the first place. It is a part of me.

“I have always said I walk in the front door of a club and do the same on the way out. That said, there have been a few experiences at clubs where I should have done things differently.

“There were moments I did not enjoy and, looking back, I know I did not handle them right. A couple of things at Oxford I let go by when I should have acted.

“I would do that differently now. But that is what experience does for you. What I have always tried to be is honest – and even more so here because I live in this city.

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“These are working-class people and they would laugh at me if I tried to be something I wasn’t. I cannot start talking b******s and start to try spin things. My pals would crucify me and quite rightly so.”

Wilder has had a busy summer. Eight new signings have arrived at a cost of around £45m, an unprecedented outlay by United but mere pocket change to some in the top flight.

“I am excited about the opportunity to lead this magnificent football club in the Premier League,” added Wilder. “This will be an unforgiving division, we know that. But we will have Bramall Lane behind us.

“Hopefully, we can be one of those teams who are expected to go down but surprise a few people. It has been done before so why can’t it be done again?”

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Deadly serious in his quest to drive United forward, Wilder’s character is such that a dash of humour is never far away. Here he is again on dealing with the spotlight that comes with a league that is broadcast live to 188 of the globe’s 193 countries and an annual audience of 1.35bn.

“Things started to change in terms of exposure once we reached the Championship,” he says. “Obviously, now we are in the Premier League, that will go even higher. Maybe I should try and tart myself up a bit – and learn when to keep my mouth shut.

“One of my pals said to me recently that we should get one of those crowd-funding things set up to pay all my fines. I liked that idea.”