Later today, when the World Cup begins in Russia, Chris Wilder plans to watch the match with an ice cold beer, not a pen, notepad and laptop.
Not because he has no interest in the hosts, their opponents Saudi Arabia or that HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Sheffield United’s co-owner, already boasts an in-depth understanding of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s squad.
Rather, thanks to hyperinflation and financial extravagance of many football clubs, the majority of their players are beyond his reach. And those who aren’t probably come with dubious injury records and references to match.
“I’m going to be sitting back and enjoying it with a lager,” Wilder joked. “Enjoying the action with family and a few good pals. That’s as far as my curiosity goes. I’ll be watching as a supporter. Nothing else.”
Although Wilder is not telling the whole truth. His instincts will compel him to analyse every aspect of the month long tournament. But a competition where every fixture, every story and every tactical development is enthusiastically devoured by a global audience does not represent fertile ground for a manager who has built his reputation on discovering unearthed gems in the transfer market. Nothing between now and July 15th’s final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, will be done in secret.
Despite learning that Prince Abdullah and his fellow co-owner Kevin McCabe had increased United’s budget earlier this summer, Wilder must continue to be creative in terms of recruitment. The 50-year-old’s most expensive outlay since taking charge is thought to have been around £750,000. Wolverhampton Wanderers lavished £17.9m on Rúben Neves before lifting last term’s Championship title. In 2011, when United were last in the second tier, the division’s record spend was £3.6m. That is a near five-fold increase in the space of only seven seasons.
“I’ve thanked the owners for what they’ve done,” Wilder said. “But there are still teams we’re not going to be able to stand toe to toe with. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a statement of fact but we’re always looking at other ways to try and bridge the gap and the divide.
“We know the type of players we want and we know the market. I think that knowledge, the model that we have and use, has served us pretty well so far. We’ve got a way of working that suits us and the club as a whole.”
“We’re always looking though,” Wilder continued. “We want to keep on driving forward and put ourselves in a position whereby, if an opportunity presents itself, we have got a chance of taking it. But the one thing we’ll always do is act responsibly and treat the club’s money with respect, as if it’s our own.”
One aspect of the World Cup Wilder will study assiduously is tactics and game-management.
“We’re always alert to new developments,” he said. “We like to see if there are things that we can utilise.”