Why Chris Wilder is right to not fear the sack at Sheffield United

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 23 November 2020, 10:53

Chris Wilder has masterminded a catalogue of impressive triumphs since he was appointed Sheffield United manager in 2016.

One of those wins came at this stage last season, when the Blades conjured up a typically hard-fought 1-0 victory over Arsenal which moved the then Premier League new boys up to 9th after nine games, above the likes of Man Utd, Wolves and Everton.

Many expected the club’s bright start to tail off, yet they kept on picking up points. There were draws at Tottenham and Wolves, six goals were shared against Man Utd, then a hat-trick of wins in the build-up to Christmas propelled Wilder’s men up to 5th in the table.

“Chris Wilder is the biggest miracle worker since Jesus” one fan memorably tweeted at the time.

Sheffield United would eventually finish 9th; just two points behind Arsenal, and five points off Spurs.

One of the Premier League’s most dished out cliches, ‘second season syndrome’, is now being pinned to the Blades, who find themselves rock-bottom of the table with one point from a possible 27 so far.

The 1-0 defeat at home to West Ham even resulted in one bookmaker installing Wilder as the new favourite to become the first Premier League casualty of the season.

"It's great how you guys talk about people's careers so flippantly, I love all that,” Wilder said in the aftermath of the game when he was asked about his future.

"I haven't had the sack in 20 years - 911 games if you hadn't noticed - I don't fear it.

"I need to be careful because I don't want to come across as arrogant and look like I think I'm untouchable, but I don't feel it should be asked given the journey that we have been on over the last four years."

Wilder then added: "It's a ruthless, relentless division and a cut-throat division which doesn't give you handouts. It's not a time to go into our shells and I certainly won't as manager of the football club.

"We have to embrace the challenge and everything that goes with the Premier League."

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Chris Wilder: "I haven't had the sack in 20 years - 911 games if you hadn't noticed - I don't fear it"

Wilder, as you’d expect, is bullish in face of uncertainty. 

He’s a hero on the Bramall Lane terraces, and while no manager is ‘unsackable’ or immune from criticism, fans will be confident that his tactical acuity, smart man-management and ability to squeeze the best out of his players will soon result in points on the board.

Attempting to envision Sheffield United pulling the managerial trigger on the man who has completely transformed the club’s fortunes - it’s his boyhood club with whom he propelled from League One to the Premier League - is actually quite ludicrous.

Memories and achievements are too easily forgotten in an era of instant gratification.

Who would even replace last season’s LMA Manager of the Year candidate if he was sacked? 

There’s simply no one out there who could step into his position.

All too often we see struggling clubs wield the axe in a desperate attempt to survive the drop. Just look at Fulham, who in their last two Premier League seasons changed bosses not once, but twice, and still went down. Watford followed suit last season and suffered the same fate.

Even if the Blades were relegated down to the Championship, sticking with your manager through the tough times can be fruitful. 

The recent example of Ralph Hasenhuttl at Southampton springs to mind. 

Then three seasons after Burnley were relegated from the Premier League under Sean Dyche, he led the club into Europe. 

Norwich’s Championship-winning manager Daniel Farke may have failed to beat the dreaded drop last season, but the Canaries kept the faith, and they are now top of the second-tier after a dozen games.

More pertinent to Sheffield United, when Wilder was playing for Blades in the 1990/91 season, the club - who were then managed by Dave Bassett - failed to win any of their opening 16 games of the top-flight season, a record. 

However, the club showed patience in their incumbent, who inspired a remarkable turnaround to lead his men to 13th place; 12 points clear of the drop zone. They then finished 9th the following season, a standing Wilder replicated last time out.

What is abundantly evident is Wilder and his troops are missing the club’s passionate fanbase. The supporters who roared them on during that incredible 3-3 draw with Man Utd a year ago and helped inspire that aforementioned victory over Arsenal, which was one of 10 wins they accumulated on home soil. In contrast, they’ve mustered just one point from five games on their own patch this term.

Wilder’s bold and innovative style of play was one of the tactical talking points of the previous season. He’ll be the first to admit that his troops have struggled for points and goals this term, however the best managers adapt to any situation. 

It will now be interesting to see what approach Wilder takes to arrest the slump, claim that elusive win, and get his team firing in attack. In his mind, the season will start again on Saturday when the Blades travel to the Baggies, who are also winless.

Now is the time for patience, not panic.

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