Nine days ago, when Chris Wilder explained why Nigel Clough, not Chris Hughton, should have been named Championship Manager of the Year last season, I wondered if he was also making a point about himself.
“Sometimes, when awards get chucked-out, it’s easy for people to give them to the teams with the biggest resources and most money,” he said, before describing Burton Albion’s continued presence in the division as a “phenomenal” achievement. “Sometimes, it would be nice if people looked below that, at things like facilities, budgets and working with players.”
Like Clough, whose sterling work at the Pirelli Stadium has not attracted the recognition is deserves, Wilder’s achievements with Sheffield United have gone largely unnoticed by the likes of George Burley, Don Goodman and others on the judging panel. Despite steering his team to third in the table ahead of tomorrow’s game with Birmingham City, seven months after they scored 92 goals and accumulated 100 points en route to promotion last term, Wilder has been the recipient of only one EFL monthly award during his 18 months at the helm. A ridiculous state of affairs when you consider his predecessor Nigel Adkins scooped exactly the same number throughout his own short but soporific reign.
As football grows increasingly avaricious, as talk of multi-million pound takeovers generate more column inches than tactics and talent, the value of player development is becoming under-valued. Rather than simply reaching for the cheque book, surely the ultimate sign of a skilled and capable coach is the ability to work with, mould and improve those at their disposal into something greater than the sum of its parts?
Wilder, in tandem with his assistant Alan Knill and head of sports science Matt Prestridge, clearly fall into that category because United are out-performing clubs, City included, who have spent millions assembling their squads. Which is why, despite losing Paul Coutts for the rest of the campaign with a fractured tibia, they have the tools and know-how to maintain a promotion challenge.
Yes, the Scot’s diagnosis is a bitter blow. True, the 5-4 defeat by Fulham in midweek will raise fears it has irrevocably damaged their top-flight push. But John Lundstram and Samir Carruthers, both recruited by Wilder, are proficient professionals who can benefit from an extended run in the team. United will not be the same without Coutts. But, once the necessary adjustments are made, they should be no less effective. Just different.