CHRIS WILDER has crossed the line and, if he hasn’t gone already, is likely to be shown the door should Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud wrestle full control of Sheffield United.
Shocking to hear but that is the take of a reliable source with a close ear to the Saudi royal’s camp, as told to ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com. Prince Abdullah, apparently, is furious with the Blades manager’s recent outburst in which he suggested he may quit.
United’s co-owner, engaged in a bitter power-struggle with Kevin McCabe, views it as a disguised and strategic attempt to side with the latter, in the knowledge Wilder’s standing at the club will influence public opinion against the man from the Middle East. The aim being to force him to back down and eventually relinquish his interests as other investors wait in the wings.
“Prince Abdullah fully appreciates what Chris has achieved,” said the source. “But in light of what has been happening away from public view in recent months, he also sees him now as very much McCabe’s man and has been unsettled by his alignment. No one person should be bigger than the club. It seems like a co-ordinated attempt to isolate Prince Abdullah and try to make him out in supporters’ eyes to be a bad guy.”
Asked what plans the Saudi has for team investment should he become sole owner of United, the source was less forthright, saying: “He’s well aware of what is needed to advance the club.”
The blocking of Prince Abdullah’s Board appointee Jan Van Winckel, who has a UEFA-pro coaching licence, to the club’s technical board is also viewed, says the source, as an example of the alliance forged between McCabe and Wilder.
McCabe stepped in to prevent the 44-year-old Belgian, technical director of the Saudi Football Federation, from having a voice in team affairs by joining Wilder, No2 Alan Knill, head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, academy chief Travis Binnion and head of administration Carl Shieber.
Wilder, meanwhile, insists he has no argument with either owner but wants them to settle their differences now so that he can plan for next season. “It’s not a war against one or the other,” he repeated this week, “just my view speaking as the figurehead from the players, staff and supporters’ point of view. It’s quite a unique situation I find myself in because of my history and connections here. I just want us to go forward.”
The silence at Bramall Lane is deafening, however, in response to his heart-on-sleeve assessment after a 1-0 defeat last week to Preston in the final home match of the season.
Wilder, prevented from investing in the quality he would have liked last summer after winning the League One title, finally broke ranks following a season of frustration. The division between Prince Abdullah and McCabe, he said, is strangling direction, unity and an ability to plan ahead.
After calling into question his own future if the issue is not resolved quickly and he is not given assurances he can strengthen his squad with better quality signings this summer, Wilder refused to back down as he prepared for the trip to Ashton Gate. “I won’t retract anything,” he said. “We all have choices and options. I don’t know what the future holds.”
Given the complexity of the struggle for power which first surfaced in January, it suggests today’s end-of-season match at Bristol City will be his last in charge of a club he has supported from childhood and played for.
Wilder is already reported as the favourite to become manager at Sunderland. West Brom, Southampton, and Leicester City are among others said to be interested.
The Black Cats, relegated to League One, sacked Chris Coleman last week and were bought by a consortium led by Stewart Donald, a friend of Wilder’s when he was manager at Oxford. The multi-millionaire insurance businessman, a U’s fan, was a sponsor before later striking a deal to buy 10 per cent of the club.
To comply with regulation in order to complete the deal for Sunderland, Donald is selling National League Eastleigh where Wilder took United’s first team for a pre-season friendly.
“There will always be speculation,” said the Blades boss. “I can’t do anything about speculation. What I can do is try to get clarity for my football club. I’ve not thought about this being my last game. The club might get taken over tomorrow and whoever does it might want to bring their own guy in.”
He added: “I don’t think anybody thought we would have this (good a) season and be in this situation at the end where a year on we have an issue at boardroom level.”
Appointed a week short of two years ago, Wilder signed an improved and extended two-year contract last August. Appreciation for the remarkable job he did to transform a broken club within 12 months and return it to the Championship after a six-year absence.
“When I first came in, I wasn’t looking to dive in and dive out,” Wilder said. “When I extended, did I see this? No.”
He is not alone. United supporters travelling to Bristol are planning a huge show of support for the man they call one of their own in a last-ditch effort to pull at the manager’s heartstrings.
Sadly, but for a dramatic turn of events from above, it won’t be enough.