Chris Wilder would make a terrible spin doctor. He prefers to call a spade a shovel and tell it, often in pretty industrial terms, exactly like it is.
So when the Sheffield United manager revealed his admiration for Brentford’s coaching staff ahead of tomorrow’s match at Griffin Park you knew that, rather than attempting to butter them up, he was speaking from the heart. “I know Dean (Smith) and (his assistant) Richard (O’Kelly),” Wilder said last night. “More Richard from when he was working at Doncaster and Hereford as well. They’re just good, solid football people who produce equally good teams and go about it the right way.”
That, at least according to Wilder’s gospel, is combining technique with tenacity and utilising intelligence rather than a cheque book. Which is why, despite acknowledging the importance of this fixture, he felt comfortable extolling Brentford’s achievements since gaining promotion from League One four years ago. Their director of football model might not be to the 50-year-old’s taste. Nor owner Matthew Bentham’s obsession with recruitment statistics. But Smith’s ability to buck the financial trend means, given United’s modest budget, his achievements in West London are of obvious interest.
“At both our clubs, we have to rely more on our football knowledge,” Wilder continued. “I said at the start of the season, I didn’t think it was a case of ‘little old Brentford.’ They’ve recruited well and attracted good players.
“When you see something evolve, from where they were to where they are, you sit up and take notice. You have admiration for that rather than the other way. Saying that, I suppose Dean will be in the same situation as me, trying to bridge that gap, trying to find a way.”
The fact United enter tomorrow afternoon’s contest above Brentford in the table is a source of pride for Wilder whose side, after reaching the Championship themselves last term, are only two points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough with eight matches remaining. The visitors, who yesterday learnt Lee Evans, David Brooks and Enda Stevens have all returned from international duty unscathed, know a repeat of August’s victory over the Londoners could see them climb back into the play-offs positions. An achievement which, despite casting admiring glances at the sums some of their rivals have lavished in the transfer market, Wilder insisted would be a triumph for sensible planning and sustainability.
“That model, you would hope, tends to survive the longest,” he said. “Myself and (assistant) Alan (Knill), even before here, we always try and improve the whole club. We try and have a strategy and something that progresses.
“In the short term, can we bridge that gap between us and the teams above us? I think we can, even though we need some big results. Medium and long term, can we do it again? I think we can although, for that to happen, something needs to happen higher up as well. The owners, from my meetings with them, understand that. They understand the situation and where we are.”