Sheffield United: How Regan Slater cemented his place in Chris Wilder's thinking
A lifelong supporter turned Sheffield United player, Chris Wilder probably looks at Regan Slater and sees something of himself.
But it is talent, not character traits, which has piqued the manager’s interest and prompted him to grant the teenage midfielder an opportunity.
“I know what it’s like to come from the city and represent ‘your’ club,” Wilder, who made nearly 130 appearances for United, said. “It’s a terrific honour. That’s how Regan will be feeling but he’s got where he is on merit and now he’s got to kick-on.”
Slater, aged 18, marked his third senior appearance, against Ipswich Town last weekend, with a tackle so fierce it spawned a new adjective. Wilder, who claimed the youngster had “absolutely cemented” Bersant Celina towards the end of the FA Cup third round tie, described the challenge as “my personal highlight of the season so far” and confirmed it will be rewarded with further chances at first team level.
“That tackle was made in Sheffield,” Wilder continued. “Duff (Mark Duffy) is looking at Regan from the bench and thinking ‘Where the hell has that come from?’ It tells you what he’s about and put a right smile on my face.”
“I’m all over that tackle,” he added. “There’s parts other people look for and, listen, I love my teams to pass and move. I think we play some really good football. But when there’s a tackle to be made, make it.”
It is a measure of Slater’s progress that, despite not being known for his sentiment, Wilder has promoted him quickly through the ranks. Born in Gleadless, he became United’s youngest every goalscorer in a competitive fixture after hitting the target during a Checkatrade Trophy clash with Grimsby Town last term. Since then Slater has travelled with United to their Championship fixture at Millwall and also appeared as a substitute against Preston North End. But it was that challenge on the Kosovo international which proved his coming-of-age moment.
“We’ve got a great youth system,” Wilder, who named Slater’s fellow Steelphalt Academy graduate Rhys Norrington-Davies on the bench at Portman Road, said. “A lot of credit should go to the people there, in terms of the development, recruiting and scouting they do. I’m not being told to play academy players because the most important thing is they must be good enough.
“We also had Rhys on the bench down and I would have loved to have brought him on. It’s important they’ve got an affinity to this club.”
Wilder, who revealed Slater will now “go back to the under-23’s, work hard and wait for another opportunity,” also praised goalscorer Nathan Thomas for his commitment before being replaced by Slater.
“Nathan wanted to continue but his calf-tightened up and there was no point in carrying on and then seeing it go,” Wilder said. “He’s committed when he pulls on a shirt.”