IT’S ALL COBBLERS
Chris Wilder tells us why he’s swapped Oxford for Northampton
FOR many it seems one of the strangest moves of the season, Chris Wilder swapping a promotion challenge with Oxford for the club a short trip up the A43, but miles below them in League Two.
Northampton might have been six points adrift of safety when he resigned from the club sitting sixth last Sunday night.
But Wilder’s arrival at Sixfields is a considerable step up from his first foray into full-time management at Halifax Town, where they didn’t even have a football. “We’ve got 15 here,” laughs Wilder. “Al was having a moan so we’ve been able to buy a few more!”
The “Al” he refers to represents another step up. When Wilder’s six-year spell at The Shay ended in May 2008, he joined Bury as assistant to old pal Alan Knill, before dropping back into the Conference to manage Oxford six months later. At Northampton the roles are reversed.
“He’s making my tea now,” the 46-year-old jokes, which is something he’s not been able to do much in recent times at the Kassam Stadium, despite the U’s lofty league position.
As part of the terms of the compensation package agreed between Cobblers chairman David Cardoza and United chief Ian Lenagan, Wilder can’t say much about his exit, nor return to sign his old players or staff, in the immediate future.
But it is common knowledge that relations between the Wigan Warriors owner and Wilder had never been as cordial as with Kelvin Thomas, the previous chairman who appointed the manager in December 2008 with Oxford 13th in the Conference and sliding towards regional football and possible administration.
Given permission to speak to Portsmouth before Christmas, Wilder was out of contract at the end of the season and was looking for security of contract that Lenagan was not prepared to discuss despite keeping his side – often topped up with youth team scholars – in a position that defied their budget.
He had also been linked with former playing clubs Sheffield United and Notts County, but would have been prepared to return to an ambitious Non-League outfit – which is what cynics say he could soon be managing by junction 15a of the M1.
Wilder, having signed a threeand-a-half year deal, says he feels “reinvigorated”. Not least by making five signings – strikers Alan Connell and Emile Sinclair, midfielder Ricky Ravenhill, free agent Leon McSweeney and extending the loan of Gillingham forward Antonio German – which could have seen him replace Harry Redknapp as Sky Sports’ transfer car window man.
“I was thinking that the other day,” he smiles. “I don’t think I’ve ever made so many signings. It’s been pretty quiet over the last two years, with not much happening at my previous club through the season and all our business done at the start.
“I’m enjoying it. The people at the club have been fantastic and I am enjoying managing.
“I know people who have worked here before, like Malcolm Crosby and Ian Sampson, and the one thing that interested me regarding this position was the chairman. He’s always backed his managers. He’s 100 per cent a football guy, he takes an interest in the game and wants to do well.”
With a wife and two young daughters to support, Wilder – understandably – wanted to know where his future lay and answers weren’t forthcoming at Oxford.
“People have talked about me banging on the chairman’s door about my security, and it wasn’t purely about that, but that has to be a part of it,” says Wilder, who was the third longest-serving manager in the top 92 behind Arsene Wenger and Exeter’s Paul Tisdale.
“I’m not money orientated. I’m not a greedy guy, and anyone questioning my loyalty should remember I had an opportunity to take a job in the Football League six months after taking over at Oxford, but I stayed for less money. I had two or three opportunities to jump, but I didn’t.
“Maybe the last year-and-a-half I have been looking personally. Everyone talks about the club having a decision whether to reemploy me or not last summer after finishing ninth in League Two. I appreciated and respect that they wanted to offer me a new deal back then, but I had a decision as well.
“There was part of me that felt it was time for me to move aside and let somebody else have a go. Going into this season, even though we’ve done fantastically well, personally there was a little nag in me that I’d been there a long time and maybe a change was round the corner.
“You can’t always dictate when that change will be. Sometimes it’s taken out of your hands and sometimes there are opportunities. This is one that came up.”
And Wilder does see it as an opportunity, despite the Cobblers’ lowly position just eight months after contesting a play-off final at Wembley. “I’m happy with the decision I’ve made, and I’ll be more happy when we’ve won a few games and started pulling a few teams back into us, because I think that will happen,” says Wilder.
“Other teams down there will look at the players we’ve brought in and they’ll see that we are serious about staying in this league. I would be expecting a little bit of a charge from us.”
Has he looked at the calendar for the final day of the League Two season yet?
“Of course I have,” he says, knowing a first meeting with his old employers is scheduled for Sixfields on Saturday, May 3.
“There was always going to be something on it. I hope that day ends in delight for both sets of supporters, where we are in a position that we’ve secured League Two status and my former club have kicked on.”