IT TAKES someone special to leave Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp as also-rans and in a particularly competitive season.
There may have been a few raised eyebrows in Manchester and Liverpool, but anyone remotely familiar with Chris Wilder’s back story surely won’t begrudge the crowning glory, so far, of what is a truly remarkable career.
No-one will have appreciated that more than Sir Alex Ferguson, a four-time winner, as he presented the League Managers Association Manager of the Year award – the Sir Alex Ferguson Trophy – to the 51-year-old Sheffield United boss at a ceremony in London this week.
Both men from humble backgrounds and Ferguson, who won 38 trophies at Manchester United including 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice, started his management career on the factory floor. Similar to Wilder in that he worked his up way up the football ladder before making his name at Aberdeen.
Also voted the LMA Championship Manger of the Year after returning the Blades to the Premier League 36 months since taking over a mid-table League One club, Wilder proudly accepted the major award standing alongside Sir Alex and England boss Gareth Southgate. “To be voted for by your peers to get this award is just unbelievable and caps off an incredible season for me and everybody at Sheffield United,” he said. “I would like to think we have struck a blow for recruitment, training ground, teaching and all the other stuff which goes on behind the scenes – there is no chequebook culture.
“It just shows you this can happen, it is dreams, inspiration for everybody. There is a pathway through for all of us and hopefully it has shown the way for everybody else. If we can stay in the Premier League, that would be fantastic. It is an exciting and unbelievable experience we are going into.”
Wilder succeeds last year’s winner Guardiola, who has just clinched back-to-back Premier League titles and was voted Premier League Manager of the Year. Also shorts-listed was Klopp who missed out on the Premier title by a single point on the last day of the season, having seen his side amass 97 and suffer just one league defeat.
The German still has a Champions League final against Tottenham to look forward to whose manager, Mauricio Pochettino, was also shortlisted along with Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and Norwich City’s Daniel Farke.
Espirito’s Wolves secured a seventh-placed finish in the top flight after winning the Championship title the previous season. Farke, of course, led Norwich City to the Championship title this campaign, pipping the Blades who finished second.
Wilder is the first English manager to win the accolade since Eddie Howe in 2015, someone who he greatly admires for how he has established Bournemouth as a competitive Premier League side playing attractive football on a smaller budget than most.
It is a mark of how Wilder is valued by his fellow managers in that the previous three winners of the award were won by men who had just won the Premier League – Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City, Chelsea’s Antonio Conte and Guardiola.
Former Sheffield Wednesday manager, Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the LMA paid homage to the Blades boss, saying: “Chris Wilder has been patiently developing his management skills for the past 20 years and, as a result, he has successfully climbed the football pyramid.
“His reward is to have earned the respect and admiration of his peers to win the Sir Alex Ferguson Trophy for the LMA Manager of the Year award, and his dream opportunity to lead the club he supported as a boy, in the Premier League.
“His tenacity, thirst for learning and grounded approach has ultimately paid off handsomely. I am sure many others who aspire to greater things are looking forward to seeing him compete with some of the very best in the world of football management next season.”
LMA chief executive Richard Bevan added: “Chris’s success with Sheffield United is a remarkable story of a home-grown manager inspiring his club through two promotions and into the Premier League.
“His own personal journey through the EFL to the Premier League has been one of the quickest in the history of the game. Three promotions in four years with two different clubs [Northampton Town was the other] has established Chris as one of the most talented English managers in the game.”