Wilder’s Sheffield United could be heading to Europe

By Monash Ken Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/14 18:43:40

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring during the match against Bournemouth on February 9. Photo: VCG

Sheffield United are impressing everyone on their first season in the English Premier League since the 2006-07 campaign. While the team long split their time between the top two tiers and were founding members of the Premier League in 1992-93, they were relegated at the end of its second season.

Worse was to come. They spent from 2011 to 2017 in the third tier, League One, but they are back in the big time now and they are thriving.

The Steel City side beat Bournemouth 2-1 in their final game before the winter break with the three points taking them to fifth in the table. That leaves them above teams such as Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Everton, Wolves and Arsenal.

It must feel like the early 1990s all over again at Bramall Lane, with the club not flying like this since the film When Saturday Comes starring Blades fan Sean Bean as the club's star striker when they knock Manchester United out of the cup.

Life is imitating art in Sheffield. Billy Sharp, a boyhood Blade, was let go by the club when he was 19, after playing just twice for the first team. First he went on loan to Rushden & Diamonds before a permanent move to Scunthorpe United and then back to Sheffield United.

Sharp then left the Blades for a second time for Doncaster Rovers before Southampton took a gamble on a player who was a goal machine in the lower leagues as they looked to get back to the Premier League.

Once they did the Saints sent him back to the Championship on loan to Nottingham Forest, Reading and Doncaster Rovers before he ended up back at Bramall Lane via Leeds United - where he was linked with a return in the last transfer window.

He returned to the Premier League with his childhood club and the 34-year-old Sheffield-born journeyman scored the team's first goal of the season in the league and netted the equalizer in the comeback win against Bournemouth.

Boyhood fan

It's especially fitting because the Sheffield United captain's boss is a boyhood Blades fan himself.

Chris Wilder was born in Sheffield some years before Sharp but both have friends in the stands at Bramall Lane that they don't want to let down.

That is at the heart of what is happening in South Yorkshire as they look towards the northern end of the Premier League table.

Wilder spent his formative playing days at the club, with a six-year, 93-game stint not that unlike Sharp's own having spent much of it on loan at Walsall, Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient.

He too jobbed around in the lower leagues, adding teams such as Rotherham United, Notts County and Bradford City to his CV before a return to Bramall Lane in the 1998-99 season.

When he retired two seasons later he had taken in another four clubs - Northampton Town and Lincoln City on loan from United before a move to Brighton & Hove Albion followed by a final move to non-league Halifax Town.

Wilder would soon be back in the dugout at the Shay Stadium, after a brief stint at Alfreton Town where he won four trophies in just 27 weeks at the helm. His time with Halifax ended on a sour note as the club went into liquidation.

Opportunity soon came calling with Oxford United - a breeding ground for elite managers -  where he took them up from the Conference to the Football League. It then came again with former club Northampton where he won League Two despite financial difficulties.

The 52-year-old took over at Bramall Lane in 2016 with the club having finished 11th under Nigel Adkins. By the end of Wilder's first full season they had topped the League One table with 100 points and winning promotion to the Championship. Sharp led the way with 30 goals.

They made light work of that too. While United finished a creditable 10th of the 24 teams in their first season back in the second tier and just six points off the playoffs, they would finish second a season later and get to the promised land of the Premier League.

The Blades ended the season with 89 points - six points clear of the heartbreak of the playoffs - and went up behind champions Norwich City. 

Promotion was sealed with a 1-1 draw against Yorkshire rivals Leeds United and the Blades boss added the League Managers Association Manager of the Year award to his trophy shelf, winning plaudits along the way with his overlapping center backs.

Wilder exemption

It has not all been trinkets and backslaps for Wilder. He has survived the boardroom battle where Saudi Arabian co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz al Saud came out on top of his battle with Sheffield businessman Kevin McCabe, something no club would want.

Wilder wears his heart on his sleeve. You could see that when he got a yellow card for scrapping with Bournemouth's Andrew Surman on Sunday as they tussled over the ball.

He has won people over just as much with his honesty, taking a swipe at on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson after a gaffe against league ­leaders Liverpool in September. "I am not going to put my arms around him. Simply he needs to do better," was Wilder's assessment.

Wilder told the media that relegation was "unlikely" after the win over the Cherries. As for Europe, with the UEFA Champions League beckoning Wilder has dealt with that question in his own Yorkshire way.

"Europe? It might be the end-of-season trip to Magaluf again. It was always the norm for the older generation, you'd see 20 teams out there in May so that might be the same for us."

It might be Magaluf in May but if the Blades keep this they could be seeing if they can cut the mustard with the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan. It has been a wild ride so far but there are surely Wilder times ahead.
Newspaper headline: Steeled for Success


blog comments powered by Disqus