When the whistle blows at 3pm, they will be the best of enemies.
But, as soon as referee David Webb calls a halt to the action, Chris Wilder and Neal Ardley plan to share footballing stories over a nice glass of red.
Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, spoke in glowing terms about the achievements of AFC Wimbledon and his counterpart at Kingsmeadow ahead of this afternoon’s League One fixture between the two clubs. Not that the visitors should expect any favours; Wilder urged United’s players to be “ruthless” and “relentless” during Thursday’s pre-match press conference. But he did admit to cheering when, nine months ago, the south London club beat Plymouth Argyle at Wembley to secure their sixth promotion since being founded in 2002.
“They (Wimbledon) have done fantastically well,” Wilder said. “Neal will tell you their budget has increased and he’s been backed. Neal isn’t a spin manager, though, and he doesn’t put it all on other people’s toes. He knows there’s an expectancy there. They’ve got good players. I’m a fan of them and I’m a fan of Neal. There is a way forward for clubs like that and they’ve done it the best anybody could do it.”
Polar opposites in terms of stature, United and Wimbledon do share some common bonds. The Londoners, established following Wimbledon FC’s absurd relocation to Milton Keynes, are both managed by forthright, plain-speaking characters while Dave Bassett, who spent six glorious years in charge at Plough Lane, also steered United through their most successful period in recent history.
“The best manager this club has ever had was there,” Wilder, who played under Bassett at United, said earlier this week. “He’ll be here on Saturday and hopefully his allegience is with us. If not, I think a few of our punters will be on his back. He’s so highly respected.”
United enter today’s match second in the table, a point behind leaders Scunthorpe, but without a win in three games. AFC Wimbledon, who are owned by a supporters’ trust, are 13th.
“The toughest division for them is now because you do need that financial backing to compete,” Wilder said. “Look at our division and the one above; there are some clubs who you wouldn’t expect to be paying huge fees but are. It’s a marriage, like at Burton, between the financial aspect and recruiting right.
“The financial aspect on it’s own is no guarantee. It’s no good having the money if you don’t spend it wisely and on the right people or things.
“It’s a steady stable club that’s a good model. Who knows what happens when they move to the new stadium?”