WHATEVER happens between now and next May it’s plain to see from just eight weeks at the helm that Chris Wilder is here for the long haul.
Why? Because Sheffield United’s ninth manager in as many years clearly fills a void that has existed since the ill-judged parting of the ways with Neil Warnock in 2007.
Club co-owner Kevin McCabe whom, lets be honest captains the ship even if he did take his hand off the tiller, knows all about successful property development. His personal wealth and vastly improved real estate that is Bramall Lane bear testament to that. Exploiting opportunities in the construction industry is his talent. The nuts and bolts of football matters is most definitely not.
Which is why he and Warnock were a match made in heaven. Two Sheffielders. Two Blades. One a sound businessman with vision, some may say romantic – I’m talking of ‘Europe in Five Years’, ‘The Blades are Bouncing Back’ and 'The Blades Way' initiatives – of what was possible. The other an experienced, dyed-in-the-wool football man with a reputation of getting the best out of players. Creating hard-working teams which reflected a never-say-die image.
Warnock’s confrontational nature when wearing his football hat has always divided opinion. None more so than at the Lane, in the stands and in the boardroom. Love him or hate him he produced some of the most exciting football in my 46 years of watching United. Football fashioned in the historic image of the club. Having first dragged the club up from its boot straps. Supporters loved it.
“They won’t appreciate me until I’ve gone,” was a familiar response to his critics. How true it has turned out to be. He probably won’t ever publicly admit it but the United fan who has missed Warnock and a match made in heaven the most is Kevin McCabe.
After nine long years of errors, misjudgments and lack of coherence which have led the club to where it is today, McCabe has arrived at a point where he has the opportunity to recreate that winning partnership. Two Sheffielders. Two Blades. One with a vision and a business plan, the other a no-nonesense football man who gets the best out of players and is hell-bent on producing a style of football that United fans long to see. Sound familiar?
Wilder’s arrival is a huge weight lifted off McCabe’s shoulders. He’s no longer flying solo without a pilot’s licence and has finally found someone to enable him to relax and return to what he knows best.
By way of example of how exposed the co-chairman was, five months ago when conducting a public defence of indefensible former manager Nigel Adkins, McCabe said with all sincerity that United “were not a selling club.”
Then, just three weeks before sacking Adkins, he staged a public forum designed to help restore faith in the faltering project and the besieged manager. In a way that only well-meaning McCabe can, it did nothing but to achieve the opposite.
An unintended explosive performance that served only to undermined Adkins and reinforce views of angry fans. A performance, by the way, that was totally ignored by Sheffield’s media and only reported here on ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com. In it he outlined the future – under Adkins – and said that loan deals would be banned until the January transfer window because they had not served the club well.
Contrast that with the level-headiness of Wilder. This week he said: “We can’t be arrogant enough to say that in this type of situation [reported interest in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Che Adams, the latter the subject of a £1million approach from an unnamed club which has been rejected] we aren’t a selling club because we are in the third division.”
Earlier he had announced a willingness to go into the loan market, explaining: “With the lengths of the loans now – and I was always a supporter of longer loans because the players are in there with you for longer – they won’t come in for a month and play three or four games. They will be our players from now until January and can get themselves involved in everything a football club is about in this city.”
In just a few short weeks it seems that a couple of planks of McCabe’s grand vision for the future on deck have been thrown overboard. United clearly is a selling club. Even in better times history proves that and it is certainly in no position at the moment to claim otherwise. McCabe’s comment was plain silly.
Many Blades fans will have serious worries – as McCabe rightly reflected – about turning to the loan market again. But clearly Wilder is calling the shots now and it’s a safe bet that the co-chairman is more than happy with that.
Warnock often points out the most important relationship at a football club is the one between chairman/owner and manager. After years of unsuccessfully seeking romance following eight messy divorces it looks like McCabe may have again found the perfect partner to rival his once true love.