THIS WEEK just got even better for Chris Wilder. The Sheffield United manager returned to training on Monday in the sure knowledge he is winning the battle for hearts and minds on and off the pitch.
His side's fourth successive win to climb to sixth in the League One with a performance at Bramall Lane that will live long in the memory, confirmed giant strides are being made. For the first time this season, home or away, a picture began to emerge from what had previously been a jumble of jigsaw pieces. Sceptics were won over and for Wilder it reaffirmed that he and his coaching staff are on the right track with the club that he loves.
If that wasn't enough, however, the Blades boss, a die-hard fan, received a personal bonus which only enhances his reputation in managerial circles. On Wednesday evening he returned to former club Northampton Town as a guest of Sky Sports alongside Phil Neville for the Cobblers EFL Cup tie against Manchester United. Broadcasting pitchside prior to kick-off, Wilder was given a standing ovation. It was a show of respect by home fans for their former boss's achievement, against all odds, of guiding Northampton to the League Two title last season.
An emotional moment Wilder, who felt the love, will never forget. It was also a rare occasion when a man who has never managed at a higher level than League One, had the opportunity to share with the nation his views on the labouring Reds, held 1-1 at the break before winning 3-1. He might have also reflected that the scorer of Northampton's goal from the penalty spot was Alex Revell, his fifth strike of the season, who in the summer turned down the Blades boss's offer to join him at the Lane.
Maybe it was the beer talking but it made me ponder the wildly impossible. How would Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho fare at Bramall Lane?
The entertainment value of Jose – whose home is in London's Belgravia but is currently living in a suite at Salford's Lowry Hotel a stone's throw from his office at Old Trafford– getting to grips with a night out in Sheffield, let alone a greasy chip butty, would be worth the admission money alone. His presence would probably ensure capacity crowds for the visits of Fleetwood, Bury and the like. But the answer to the second question is surely no.
Mourinho would have much more to talk about over dinner with Bryan Robson, now a Manchester United ambassador, than Neil Warnock. And we all know what a disaster Robbo was during his nine months in charge at the Lane. If Jose, one of the best managers in the world, had to work with the current budget – or any budget that Sheffield United have provided managers in the past – would he know where to start?
A man who has only known chequebook football at Porto, Benfica, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea and now the Reds of Manchester, and renowned for ignoring youth in favour of experience, would surely drown in the sea of mediocrity that is the lower leagues. Although it must be said that his record during a short spell at unfashionable Portuguese club União de Leiria who at the time was in the country's top tier, attracted the attention of Porto where he put himself on the map.
Mourinho has an extraordinary record which crosses borders. Two Champions League titles, a UEFA Cup win, eight league crowns, 10 domestic cups and two Community Shield victories for good measure. He knows how to create winning football teams. But that gold-dust skill has only worked with the gold-plated-salaried cream of the crop.
How would that translate on a wet Thursday morning at Shirecliffe as the likes of Chris Basham, Paul Coutts and Mark Duffy were put through their paces? Personal wealth and lifestyle aside, would Mourinho or, for that matter, any other of the so-called elite managers dare to put their reputations on the line and take up such a challenge?
To transform Sheffield United from where they are now to a Premier League side capable of not just making up the numbers but winning trophies, would surely be a greater personal achievement than, say, winning the FA Cup or securing Champions League football for Manchester United before moving on to Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich. But, of course, it will never happen.
On the flip side, Manchester United fans would be horrified if Wilder and his No2 Alan Knill turned up at Old Trafford. Wilder's challenge would be entirely different. Dealing with huge egos, earning respect from multi-millionaires who fill the dressing room, spending vast sums to attract big names and being instantly judged on those choices in the unforgiving glare of a worldwide media.
Credibility would, of course, be an almost insurmountable hurdle. But Wilder's no-nonsense football philosophy might at the very least go down a storm after the misery of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. He would at the bare minimum get the basics right.
It is guaranteed Wayne Rooney would be restored to the forward line. Marcus Rashford would be given every opportunity to shine alongside him and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be told to pull his socks up. Square pegs would never be put into round holes. Just as if Wilder had had any influence with former England manager Roy Hodgson – as assistant Gary Neville had – Harry Kane would not have been taking corner kicks.
Despite that, Neville, a failed manager, a failed international coach, will always trump the likes of Wilder by those who have more money than sense. Solely by virtue of his solid reputation as a former England and Manchester United right-back and his high profile as a knowledgeable football pundit. Which Mourinho, whose career as a player hardly warrants a mention, will be the first to tell you often has little to do with producing successful football teams.
Back in the real world it's horses for courses. Mourinho will always circulate among Europe's elite for as long as he wants to. It is where he belongs and where he is comfortable. Wilder, meanwhile, is perfectly happy to steadily grow his reputation. More in keeping with a Sam Allardyce. And look where he ended up.
(This post published before England manager Allardyce parted company with the FA after just 67 days in the job following revelations in the Daily Telegraph).