April 11, 2024

Report: Sheff Utd boss on the importance of owning harsh lessons and renewed survival hope

In an exclusive interview, Chris Wilder underlines how reconnecting with Sheff Utd fans can help generate belief and positive thinking in the fight for survival

This Week: Sheffield United Football Club | Premier Skills English

Friday lunchtime in Shirecliffe. Outside on the grass, there is a renewed sense of optimism that is sweeping through the Sheffield United Football Academy. There is a vibrancy to the surroundings in keeping with the mild temperatures.

You wouldn’t know that less than a fortnight ago, the men’s first-team had conceded five goals in the space of 35 minutes in front of their own supporters. In the cafeteria, the women’s squad are convening while the sofas in reception are filled with 16-year-old trialists freed on half-term and filled with nervous excitement.

Cutting through this frenzied energy strides a beaming Chris Wilder with the Premier League’s hardest handshake to welcome this reporter through the double doors of the media lounge.

One of many motivational messages adorns the walls – “Nothing is given, everything is earned” – follows us up the stairs to where his players can be found practising their golf swing and darts throw in a cozy common room.

A sense of community and hard graft is everywhere you look. Wilder has called on his “culture carriers” to pass on his non-negotiables to anyone that enters his group. The mantra to “out run, out fight, out play” is writ large in the auditorium where we settle.

That standard dropped earlier this month when Aston Villa won 5-0 during the club’s last home game. Wilder described the performance as “unacceptable”, but the 56-year-old expected a reaction – and he got it.

The Blades boss is now banking on his side’s survival bid gaining momentum after last week’s win at relegation rivals Luton lifted them to within seven points of safety.

“I know how I’d like to come to work and how I’d like to feel inside the training ground. The reaction has been good. We’ve seen [heavy defeats] are what can happen in the Premier League.

“Even last Sunday we saw a team that’s won a European trophy [West Ham] get beaten heavily against a team that has been in the top six all season. We saw how a game can quickly get away from you.

“That’s what happened to us against Aston Villa – and it still stings. Of course, we want the players to feel good about themselves which they should do after a really good performance and result but in the back of our mind we must have that understanding of the perils of the Premier League and what can happen if you’re slightly off it.

“The fans are huge for us and I’ve said that all along. In our second season the first time we were in the Premier League together, the Covid season, I said how much we missed them.

“I 100 per cent believe our supporters made that difference in turning a defeat into a draw and a draw into a win. We missed them throughout that and you certainly miss them when you don’t produce a performance that they’re proud of and that represents the football club.

“We need to show consistency, the right attitude and that competitive aspect right the way through. We have to own the Villa performance, we have to own that afternoon, and we have to show the fighting qualities that have got us into this position, that really represent me as a manager, the coaches and most importantly the supporters.”

Wilder: We’re still learning on the job

Exclusive: Chris Wilder set for dramatic return with Sheffield United  poised to sack manager

Wilder has seen his side struggle to get off the foot of the table during a season disrupted by player departures in the summer.

Several were sold to help stave off the club’s well-publicised financial problems whilst others who had been crucial to their promotion from the Championship returned to their parent clubs at the end of loan deals.

What has made the challenge even harder has been the absence of key personnel throughout the campaign. The signs were there when Max Lowe rolled his ankle on a sprinkler during a pre-season friendly at Derby.

Captain Chris Basham broke his leg in a freak incident against Fulham while John Egan injured a foot jumping for a header in October and has not been seen since.

“The team and the club have been decimated over quite a long period now from an injury point of view,” Wilder admits. “I hear other Premier League managers talk about their injuries… it’s not so much the injuries we look at but the characters we miss – the ones with Premier League experience.

“The likes of your Bashams and your John Egans, your Oli McBurnies and now Ben [Brereton Diaz] has been out as well, so we’ve lost senior members of a new group. There are a lot of young boys playing for the first time in the Premier League and boys we’ve brought from overseas that are having their first taste of it, so we’re learning on the job and in this league.

“There’s no leeway for an off-day or for mistakes. But having a healthy, competitive squad and having difficult decisions to make is what I want. I’d rather have it that way than have quite a lot of the boys not available for selection.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *