CHRIS WILDER revealed yesterday that he is completely in the dark about what direction Sheffield United will take as a power struggle between the club’s co-owners continues behind closed doors.
“Obviously stories you hear and situations that are happening above, I don’t know where the direction of the club’s going,” he said. “It would be good to know from my point of view, yes of course.”
Quizzed as to whether the Blades would now be in a stronger position if he had been backed more substantially in the summer and January transfer windows he said: “Yes, I think we would be in a stronger position without a shadow of a doubt but I don’t write the cheques.
“I get told what to do and get on with it to the best of my ability and that is always trying to get the maximum out of what you’ve got.”
Responding to a report Tottenham are planning a £10million summer swoop for United’s Wales international David Brooks, Wilder confirmed he had no personal knowledge of an approach. “No-one has spoken to me, unless someone has spoken to the owners. The owners have not told me about anything.”
Wilder was speaking 72 hours after having dismissed United’s play-off hopes in an extraordinary condemnation of his players following a limp 1-0 defeat at crisis club Hull City managed by former Bramall Lane boss Nigel Adkins.
“There’s no hiding place for me, so there’s no hiding places for the players,” he said, adding: “I haven’t changed my opinion one bit.”
Only strikers Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke were absolved on the grounds that their teammates were so poor the forwards were denied even adequate service. “I’m wasting my time and energy thinking we’re going to get in the top six,” Wilder fumed. “That’s us now because we’ve clearly not shown the qualities that are needed to get into the play-offs.” He added: “It’s just shown the players have maxed out.”
Yesterday having had two days to consider his outburst Wilder was adamant that it was his players who needed to answer questions not him. “As far as I’m concerned my remit at this football club was to get the club out of the division [League One]. Did that. The remit from the owners was stay in the division [Championship]. We’ve got 52 points, done that. So I think I’m doing my job.”
“Having done it I will always try [to be] better, better, better. Those players had better get on the train. If they’re not on the train then I’ll try and pull a few rabbits out of a few more hats like I have done and we’ll go from there.”
He added almost comically: “I’m not there to be their best mate. I’ve got pals, I’ve got my pals. I’m not there to be best mates with them, fancy going out for a game of golf, how’s you’re misses and all that. They’re workers for me, they’re employees.”
Taken at face value and given United remain just two points outside the play-offs in eighth before facing Reading tonight at the Madejski Stadium, Wilder’s conclusion last Friday night in East Yorkshire that the season is over was a huge over reaction. One that will not have been welcomed by his potential sole Saudi boss. But that may have been the underlying point.
It’s safe to assume that Wilder’s rush to write off the remainder of this campaign is not what it seems. Yes, part heart-on-the-sleeve frustration and disappointment because that is the character of a man whose refreshing honesty and straight-talking style makes him a perfect fit for Unitedites. But also part designed to provoke a reaction as United struggle to rediscover early season consistency which would almost certainly propel them into the play-offs.
That and a disguised public message to his bosses – in the final analysis you get what you pay for. A hard-working squad of largely journeymen players who are, as he described them at the KCOM Stadium, “maxed out”. It is the only logical explanation.
If not, however unlikely that may be, then Wilder is on thin ice. Simply writing off his team’s chances and taking his ball home on the basis of one particularly poor performance with 13 matches remaining and 39 points to play for, makes no sense. Something more akin to what Brian the Blade might offer on BBC Radio Sheffield’s Praise or Grumble.
Neither does his declartion after training on Monday “I’ve done my job” coupled with an indifference to how the players react. We win together, we lose together has been Wilder’s steadfast doctrine ever since arriving in May 2016. It unified and rebuilt a divided club left in a shambolic state by Adkins, sacked after a season in charge, and achieved remarkable success. Are we really to believe it no longer remains so?
Has the same man who only a couple of weeks ago talked of not wanting to be on the beach in early May and thinking of what might have been, already thrown his towel onto a sunlounger in preparation for beating German holidaymakers at their own game?
The reality is he doesn’t for one moment believe it. That is not the Chris Wilder Blades fans and players know and love. What it does reveal is fatigue at having as he described yesterday “to pull a few rabbits out of a few more hats” as well as structurally damaging cracks behind the scenes. Cracks which have existed ever since Wilder returned Championship football to the Lane after a six-year absence.
What started as a rift between Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who bought a 50 per cent share of the club four-and-a-half years ago for just £1 in return for “game-changing” investment, has developed into a chasm.
The result of ever increasing mistrust and now an attempt by the Saudi prince to buy out McCabe, is serious lack of investment that would have given Wilder the ammunition to be a front-runner for promotion instead of aspiring in the chasing pack.
If the aim all along was to establish United as a mid-table Championship team then Wilder is quite right. It’s job done. That was accepted in good faith by the manager who nontheless hoped that if they were handily placed for a promotion push by the turn of the year, he might receive a significant helping hand. It never came.
Instead three recruits playing in League One and another, although on loan from Manchester United hadn’t kicked a competitive ball in 14 months, formed the promotion cavalry. Of them only central midfielder Lee Evans, signed from Wolves but who spent the last two seasons on loan at Bradford and latterly Wigan, has so far proved to be a real asset.
“This division is high class, a high standard division of football and whether you’re playing Leeds United, whether your playing Aston Villa, whether you’re playing so called teams at the bottom [such as] Hull City, you look at this division and you look at the previous division we were in and it’s really chalk and cheese,” said Wilder.
But he wasn’t surprised by the figure he had to work with in January. “There was a Board meeting in October and the budget was set then so we pretty much knew what we had to deal with. It doesn’t affect those players on Friday night. It doesn’t affect my thinking. What direction the club’s going in I’ve not got a clue, I can’t tell you.
“But as it is, head down for me and work just as hard as I’ve ever done for this football club. Until I’m told what’s happening that’s going to be how it is.”
Read into that what you can.