‘WE WON’T GO FOR BROKE’ FOR BROKE’

Blades boss Chris Wilder aim­ing for sen­si­ble pro­gres­sion

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW - By Chris Dunlavy

SH­EFFIELD United don’t just have a man­ager in Chris Wilder. The Blades also pos­sess a guardian. Sta­tis­tics re­leased this week show that, in 2016, 16 of the Cham­pi­onship’s 24 clubs spent more than 100 per cent of their in­come on wages.

Yet, while the lure of Premier League riches prompts ever-greater gam­bles, Wilder would never urge United owner Kevin McCabe to take a seat at the roulette wheel.

A decade ago, the 49-year-old was in charge at Hal­i­fax Town as the club slowly suf­fo­cated un­der a £2m debt moun­tain.

Ev­ery pay­day, staff would scram­ble to their cars and race for the bank, des­per­ate to clear their cheques be­fore the cash ran out. When the liq­uida­tors fi­nally moved in, those peo­ple lost their jobs and a town lost its club.

Later, at Northamp­ton Town, Wilder watched as the Cob­blers sank to­wards ad­min­is­tra­tion amid a “sham­bles” of un­paid wages, fi­nan­cial skul­dug­gery and ut­ter ne­glect from those in the board­room. Only an 11th-hour takeover from Kelvin Thomas pre­vented an­other club go­ing pop on his watch.

Such ex­peri- ences leave an in­deli­ble mark and ex­plain why Wilder has nei­ther pushed for more funds nor ex­hausted those avail­able to him.

At a shade un­der £1m, Richard Stear­man is the big­gest sign­ing of the sum­mer. Ge­orge Bal­dock cost £650,000 from MK Dons. In to­tal, United spent £2.8m, just six per cent of what yes­ter­day’s op­po­nents Mid­dles­brough shelled out.

“I’m am­bi­tious,” ex­plains Wilder, whose side ended a six-year Cham­pi­onship ex­ile with a peer­less romp to the League One ti­tle last sea­son.

“I want us to com­pete, but I think ev­ery­body re­alises that to com­pete at the top end is a loss­mak­ing ex­er­cise. Yes, we could go mad. But then you’re sat here in two years’ time with the club on it’s a*** be­cause of over­spend.

“The club sec­re­tary, who’s been work­ing here for 25 years, gets made re­dun­dant. The fella who does the me­dia loses his job. The girl that runs the can­teen.

“And we’re cut­ting costs and cut­ting jobs. I’ve been through that at Northamp­ton. Peo­ple didn’t get paid for three months and it de­stroyed the foot­ball club. Ab­so­lutely de­stroyed it. Noth­ing is worth that.

“I don’t want us to rip off lo­cal sup­pli­ers be­cause we can’t pay the bills. I don’t want to be Portsmouth, who found them­selves in League Two. “Their sup­port­ers were all for open-top buses,

FA Cup wins, play­ing in Europe. If they’d had a crys­tal ball to see what was com­ing, would they have taken it?

“It’s a fine line. If some­one’s got the money and want to in­vest it freely – like Steve Gib­son at Boro – then I en­tirely un­der­stand that. But play­ing with peo­ple’s fu­tures and liveli­hoods isn’t some­thing I’ll ever be part of.”

Un­der­stand

Wilder, though, re­futes any sug­ges­tion that United’s pru­dence ex­cludes hem from com­pet­ing with the di­vi­sion’s elite.

The former Ox­ford boss em­braces the Blades’ ‘dark horse’ tag and says Hud­der­s­field pro­vide a com­pelling ex­am­ple of what can be achieved on rel­a­tively mod­est re­sources.

“A bag full of money isn’t the be all and end all,” says Wilder, who won the Con­fer­ence play­offs with Ox­ford in 2010 and the League Two ti­tle with Northamp­ton in 2016, be­fore se­cur­ing a dream move to his boy­hood club. Skill in im­prov­ing

teams, skill in coach­ing and mankill ag­ing, skin the trans­fer mar­ket – that’s the key.

“Don’t get me wrong. Dean Hoyle put some se­ri­ous dough into Hud­derut sfield. But they’ve been smart with their spend­ing. Smart with their

re­cruit­ment. Above all, they’ve had a fab­u­lous year where lots of things went for them.”

David Wag­ner of­ten spoke of Hud­der­s­field’s “Ter­rier spirit”. United’s suc­cess last sea­son was built on sim­i­lar qual­i­ties and Wilder is un­apolo­get­i­cally old school when it comes to team bond­ing.

Aware his side were strug­gling for con­fi­dence in the midst of last year’s bar­ren early run, he or­dered the coach driver to stop at an off-li­cence and dis­patched skip­per Billy Sharp to buy crates of beer. The Blades never looked back.

“At the right time, in the right place, play­ers need to let their hair down,” says the former full-back. “I hon­estly don’t see any­thing wrong with that.

“If peo­ple want to call me old school, that’s fine. If they come up here, they’ll see a lot of cut­ting-edge stuff go­ing on. You have to keep with the times, but that doesn’t mean los­ing old val­ues. They will stay as long as I’m here.

“I’m not em­bar­rassed about that. At the end of the sea­son, we achieved some­thing. I want play­ers to cel­e­brate that and en­joy it, not be to­tally po-faced and pro­fes­sional.

“You can’t re­lax in foot­ball. You can’t look back and rest on what you’ve achieved. So, when you do get a chance to cel­e­brate, make the most of it.”

That ethos is partly why, de­spite the “bet­ter value” on of­fer, Wilder has largely re­sisted the lure of play­ers from overseas.

Cul­ture

“We’re based on an English men­tal­ity but that doesn’t mean we’ll close the doors on other play­ers,” he in­sists. “We are look­ing to ex­pand our re­cruit­ment, but the most crit­i­cal thing is that play­ers fit into our cul­ture.”

Vic­tory over Brent­ford on open­ing day means United haven’t lost since Jan­uary 24, a run stretch­ing back 18 matches.

Is there a dan­ger that spirit and har­mony could take a knock when for­tunes nose­dive?

“No chance,” says Wilder. “For me, it’s an is­sue for the sup­port­ers more than play­ers. One thing we have got in abun­dance is char­ac­ter.

“They showed that last year. Six years in this di­vi­sion was five years too long. And, with each year, the pres­sure mounts. So, to be bot­tom of the di­vi­sion af­ter four games and then win the ti­tle, the play­ers don’t need to prove any­thing to me be­cause I know what they’re all about.

“A lot of clubs are all right when things go well. When things don’t, they split, go off into fac­tions, start look­ing af­ter them­selves. That ab­so­lutely won’t hap­pen here.”

Even if things do take a turn for the worse, Wilder will have a fin­ger firmly on the ter­race tem­per­a­ture.

As man­ager of Ox­ford and Northamp­ton, he re­lied on mates for a frank as­sess­ment of his beloved Blades. That hasn’t changed now he’s stand­ing on the touch­line.

“I don’t think I’d be able to stop them ex­press­ing their opin­ion,” he laughs. “Es­pe­cially in the pub on a Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter about four pints!

“It’s funny, but noth­ing in my life has changed re­ally.

“I’m just a bit more recog­nis­able when I go out and have a beer. I can’t do some of the dafter things I’d do as a kid, but that comes to us all, doesn’t it?

“Play­ing for the club didn’t change me and man­ag­ing it won’t ei­ther. I’m still just a bloke from Sh­effield. The highs are a bit higher when we get a re­sult. The lows are a bit lower.

“But I feel ex­actly the same now as I did at Hal­i­fax. I’m more ex­pe­ri­enced, I deal with things a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently. “But the feel­ing in­side, the de­ter­mi­na­tion to do well by my club, that’s the same.

“The only dif­fer­ence is that this is my club.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

GOOD TIMES: Chris Wilder cel­e­brates win­ning the League One tro­phy with his Sh­effield United play­ers BIG SIGN­ING: The Blades snapped up Richard Stear­man, left, from Ful­ham and, right, Billy Sharp cel­e­brates his win­ner against Brent­ford last week

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