UPDATE: Wilder revealed today that he has been told transfer activity is limited to loan deals.
CHRIS WILDER has fulfilled his part of the bargain. It’s time for others to step up to the plate. But will they? Worryingly, there is no sign of white smoke emitting from the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the bitter battle for ownership of Sheffield United will almost certainly be settled in the High Court next summer.
It’s ironic that on the pitch the Blades are in great shape while off it co-owners Kevin MCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are engaged in a personal relegation struggle of their own making.
All of which is ultimately of no further use to Wilder if his working boundaries remain the same. As it stands the Blades manager’s job is effectively done. Charged with digging the club out of League One and making them serious contenders for promotion to the Premiership, he has delivered exactly that.
Now he needs significant financial help from above to plug the gaps in the January transfer window to have a realistic chance of reaching the goal. A quality striker, preferably two, and an attacking midfielder top the wanted list. Otherwise all that remains is to fight fires, continue to work overtime, pull several more rabbits out of hats and play for pride in an effort to keep United in the top six come the end of highly competitive league programme.
For most Blades fans that scenario is good enough and if it comes to pass will be a huge achievement. Once in the play-offs anything can happen. Fall short and with the current squad available, it still represents another good season.
The problem being, as Wilder’s managerial record demonstrates, the 51-year-old doesn’t do treading water. The teams he moulds reflect a sink-or-swim philosophy. Better to aim to win and risk defeat than settle for a draw.
For Wilder just being happy to float is one breath away from drowning. Even at the club closest to his heart. One that he’s played for, supported since childhood and as events in early May illustrated one that he is prepared to quit. If United fall short again and lack of support from above is once more a major contributor, Wilder is unlikely to be around when Rod Stewart arrives at the Lane for his gig in June.
Last season it was just about palatable. Assurances he sought about the management model going forward concerning his authority on recruitment and team matters, along with an increased budget, were given.
Going into Friday night’s televised meeting with promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion at Bramall Lane, United are third in the Championship table. A win will move them, temporarily at least, to within three points of leaders Norwich City and two behind Leeds who occupy the second automatic promotion place.
Wilder is only too willing to tell all comers that the Blades shouldn’t be anywhere near the position they are in. “We have got no right, absolutely no right,” he said recently. “We are defying the odds.” A message he repeated on Sky television after defeat to Leeds at the Lane and Saturday’s win at Reading.
Wilder has of course an ulterior motive for using his well-worn line. He knows more than anyone that he and his squad have earned every right to be where they are. Sustaining it, however, is another matter. Wilder’s words are really aimed at McCabe and Prince Abdullah – more in truth the latter – who have it in their power to help turn a dream into reality by releasing significant funds and make all the difference in next month’s transfer window.
Easier said than done when millions are at stake for both parties in the wrestle to assume full control. “It will be interesting to see what happens in the lead up to January, to see what the attitude will be," Wilder told a national newspaper recently.
“Me and supporters would say ‘there’s a pot there at the end worth £190 million’, but it ain’t my dough or my decision. I’d like us to be a bit more ambitious and for those differences to be sorted out, but If that’s not the case, we’ll give it our best shot.”
As a result of his end-of-season stand-off with his employers, Wilder was able to make Republic of Ireland defender John Egan a club record £4m-plus signing from Brentford.
The manager has been at pains to point out this week what a quality buy the 26-year-old has been. Another message intended for his bosses perhaps to demonstrate the benefit of buying for the future instead of reaching for sticking plasters. “I’m looking at John to play 300 or 400 games with us. The only way that doesn't happen is if someone comes in with something head-turning, something ridiculous, that everyone agrees is impossible to turn down.”
A continuation of the charm offensive from last month when he said: “If you look at what's being paid and where John's performances are now, it [his fee] is outstanding [value]. It fully justifies us paying that fee for him. I think he's worth double what we paid.”
It is concerning that less than three weeks before the transfer window opens, one that will define United’s season and almost certainly Wilder’s thoughts on where his future lies, the manager still feels the need to beat the drum and rattle his collection tin.