Before outlining his manifesto for the future, Chris Wilder was at pains to get one thing straight yesterday.
Sheffield United asked him to take charge because of his achievements as a manager. Not because he is a dyed-in-the-wool Blade.
“Regarding my appointment I believe and hope, one hundred per cent, it’s because I’m good at what I do and that I’m ready for the job. Yes, I used to be a ball boy, yes I used to be a player. But that isn’t why I’ve been brought here. That’s not the reason at all.”
Nevertheless it took Wilder, the former Northampton Town chief, less than sixty seconds to prove he ‘gets’ the League One club. Naming Billy Sharp as its new captain struck an immediate chord while his philosophy, which emphasises hard work and total commitment, will resonate with those supporters who tired of Nigel Adkins’ more polished approach last term.
“Everybody relates to the nitty-gritty part of the game more than the nice bits, the sexy stuff if you like,” Wilder said. “I am a big believer that sometimes the big tackle, big header, gets just as big a cheer as a Cruyff turn.
“Sometimes a ball over the top and seeing a centre-forward chase a lost cause gives them more of a buzz than a back-heel. I am sure Billy hasn’t picked the man of the match award up for 46 games, but when a ball goes in behind, he chases after it and when there’s a challenge to be made he will stick himself on the line.”
Wilder, aged 48, embarked upon the first of two spells with United in 1986 before also representing the likes of Rotherham, Bradford City and Notts County. But, despite helping his boyhood team reach the top-flight 26 years ago, it is in the technical area where he has truly excelled. After successful apprenticeships at Alfreton and Halifax, Wilder led Oxford out of the Conference six years ago before delivering the League Two title Sixfields last month.
“I like the phrase ‘it’s not a holiday camp, but it’s not a concentration camp,’ it’s somewhere in between,” he admitted. “Whatever group we put together, it has to be together. It’s never been about me in my managerial career - it never will be about me - it’s about coming to the right result. It has to be a group effort. It works at every level, even at the top. Look at Tottenham, Leicester, they are all in Jamie Vardy’s house watching the results come in.
“Look at Burton in our division this year, not the biggest budget and not the most talented group, but possibly the most together group in that division.”
“Of course when you are winning it always makes it easier, but there’s going to be times when we are in a hole and the players need to pull each other out of that hole. They will do it together, and that’s my message to everybody.”
“At my previous club, the reason we had the results we had, we signed proper people who put in proper performances, and they were together in everything they did,” Wilder, expanding on the theme, continued. “That’s the way I have always worked, even when I was looking after a local Sunday team when I was still playing. It’s that team spirit.”
Co-owner Kevin McCabe confirmed Wilder was the “unanimous choice” of United’s board once the decision to part company with Adkins had been made. Despite impressing with Scunthorpe and Southampton, the 51-year-old paid the price for leading United to their lowest league finish since the early Eighties earlier this month.
“I moved into Halifax when there was literally nothing there, Oxford and Northampton, and have never discussed anyone else’s teams,” Wilder said. “We all go about it differently. It’s what I want to do at this club, and players that I want that’s I’ll talk about.
“I am sure there’s some very good players here, for one system, but might not fit into where I want to go.”