How Chris Wilder must laugh. Next month marks 17 years in management, many of them spent at the school of hard knocks in order to arrive where he is today.
The Sheffield United boss started painstakingly in non league with Alfreton Town and Halifax Town, returned Oxford United to the Football League, then won promotion to League One at Northampton Town, a club at the time in financial crisis and for a good part of that season couldn’t pay their wage bill.
Twelve months later he had restored the Blades Championship status with a club record 100 points bringing an end to six years in the third tier. Last season United fell just four points short of joining the lottery for a shot at the Premier League. Full employment since October 2001, any move prompted at his behest, not the sack.
Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard begins his career in a suit at Rangers, one of the two biggest clubs in Scotland. That the Glasgow giant chose to appoint a novice says much about the state of football north of the border.
Seven months earlier, after returning from LA Galaxy in the MLS where he was widely regarded as a misfit and an illustrious playing career ended almost unnoticed, the former Liverpool midfield star turned down the chance to learn the managerial ropes at MK Dons, then in League One, saying “It’s a bit too soon for me.”
A few months in obscurity coaching Liverpool Under-18s apparently was enough experience to tip the balance. “When the call came to speak to Rangers, it was a no-brainer,” he said.
Adding: “Since I have stopped playing I have missed the pressure of going out and fighting for three points on the weekend. Pressure isn’t a bad thing. If you’re working under pressure then you’re in a good place.” But not apparently if it happens to be at MK Dons.
Frank Lampard, making it known he was in the market for a first management job, interested Wilder’s former club Oxford. Ipswich Town, searching to replace Mick McCarthy, also showed interest in the former Chelsea midfield man with no coaching experience to speak of.
After, he says, considering several offers Lampard plumped for Derby County who had reached the Championship play-off semi-finals twice in three years and under the ownership of his new employer Mel Morris broke their transfer record four times.
Now John Terry, another England international and former teammate of Lampard’s at Stamford Bridge, has announced “I want a piece of that.” Modern management, it seems, is just like playing a football video game. Something to keep you occupied until you get board. “I've always had a fascination with management and coaching,” added Terry.
The defender, a free agent after playing last season at Aston Villa, isn’t prepared to put the time in just yet. He wants to extend his playing career, having agreed a deal, reported to be worth £3m tax free, to spend the rest of the season at Spartak Moscow. But after undergoing a medical staged in Rome, Terry declined the offer saying it wasn’t the right move for his family
Terry revealed at the weekend he plans to manage Chelsea and views getting there “as a five to eight-year project”. Nice work if you can get it and Terry is certainly steeped in the modern Chelsea tradition. But it surely can’t be only be me envisaging Wilder choking on his cornflakes as he digested that one.
The other end of the scale must be equally amusing for Wilder who has built his enviable track record despite having to wheel and deal on a pittance.
Jose Mourinho, when not admiring himself in the mirror is, as usual, at war with all-comers. Including Paul Pogba, the diamond-studded Frenchman he brought to Manchester United last season for £89million.
The Special One is also at odds with chief executive Ed Woodward who backed Mourinho’s £154m summer spend in 2017 but limited the purse strings to a mere £84m this time around. And to think Wilder threatened to quit in the summer if, amongst other issues, his hand-to-mouth transfer budget was not improved to something regarded as laughable by most other clubs in the Championship harbouring real ambition.
Three miles across Manchester Pep Guardiola, despite having spent £515m in his 26-month reign at The Etihad, panicked last month because injury to Claudio Bravo meant for all the riches at his disposal he hadn’t adequate cover for his first choice goalkeeper Ederson.
In the end Aro Muric, just loaned to Dutch side Breda, was recalled. Manchester City fans’ favourite Joe Hart, never in the Spaniard’s plans despite being England’s No1 at the time and the proud own of two Premier League winner’s medals, just sold to Burnley for a bargain £3.5m, must still be scratching his head.
In the real world and with the season only five weeks old, Gary Johnson (Cheltenham), Scunthorpe United’s Nick Daws, Kevin Nolan (Notts County) and Michael Collins (Bradford City) have all been sacked
Former Blades defender Neill Collins on the touchline at Tampa Bay Rowdies.
At least Joey Barton, like Nolan at Leyton Orient before he perished at Notts County, is taking first tentative steps into management via a more traditional route with Fleetwood Town.
Former Blades skipper Neil Collins is also earning his managerial spurs at Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL, the American second division club he joined as a player after quitting Bramall Lane in 2016. Ex-England international Joe Cole is his No2.
Barton, hampered by a hot-headed temperament, nevertheless extracted the best he could expect from a playing career that included one international cap, a friendly against Spain.
The controversial figure, never one to hide his light under a bushel, criticised Lampard and Gerrard for cashing in on failure after they released autobiographies following the disappointing 2006 World Cup.
When it comes to playing football Barton wasn’t fit to lace their boots. But it will be fascinating to see who fares best in their new roles. To be fair all three have made promising starts.
In Gerrard’s case it’s hardly surprising given the mediocre level of competition in the Scottish Premier League and imbalance that exists. The Gers in their third season since the long road back from being relegated to Scotland’s basement division, the penalty for financial wrong doings, are still not the force they were But still little surprise that Gerrard should suffer his first managerial defeat at the first big hurdle against neighbours Celtic, his 13th match in charge.
Gary Neville regularly offers his forthright opinion on Sky Sports suggesting where managers are going wrong. This despite the former Manchester United and England right-back, parachuted into La Liga and Valencia to the astonishment of the Spanish club’s horrified fans, being sacked after a disastrous four months in charge.
He lost 13 of his 16 league matches at the helm and waited for nine games before his first win. In the Copa del Ray semi-final Valencia were humiliated by a 7-0 first leg defeat at Barcelona. Neville was sent to the stands after abusing officials as his side were knocked out of the Europa League by Athletic Bilbao.
He was also No2 to England boss Roy Hodgson during one of the blackest moment of the nation’s footballing history, helping to oversee their humiliating exit from the 2016 European Championship to Iceland’s part-timers.
Alan Shearer, another TV pundit often critical of Premier League bosses, couldn’t prevent his beloved Newcastle from being relegated in a eight-match caretaker role (won one, lost five). A fish out of water he quickly returned to the safety of the studio.
No such worries at Bramall Lane which not long ago resembled a managerial mausoleum. Blades fans adore their boss and rightly so. But even Chris Wilder can occasionally lose his footing on the River Don.
It won’t come as any surprise to learn walking on water isn’t easy. When it comes, however, to sinking, swimming, or in Wilder’s case appearing to glide while his feet kick frantically but unseen under water, the man is a proven master of his profession.
Something designer, cherry-picking multi-millionaire managers such as Gerrard and Lampard, understandably, but maybe foolishly exploiting their reputations as players to circumnavigate the job market, will only appreciate when the going gets tough. If they stick around for long enough.