Alan Biggs at Large: Chris Wilder’s ‘throwback’ methods at Sheffield United are turning around the Blades

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
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There are those who still regard Chris Wilder as a “young manager” and this column, dated by a few years, has to be particularly wary of this trap.

Packing 15 years of management into 49 years on the planet is hardly what you’d call youth and inexperience.

Former Blade Curtis Woodhouse

Former Blade Curtis Woodhouse

Then again, 49 isn’t old. But what definitely is old are his methods. Old school, in fact. Unashamedly so. They call management-staff relations “human resources” these days, which, for me, is a ridiculously mechanical and belittling description of the most important “resource” in any company - and a load of newspeak guff.

Well, you won’t find Wilder’s approach in any HR handbook.

The other day I overheard a stray remark that Sheffield United’s young professionals were all “frightened to death of him.” Now I’m no advocate of management by fear and I wouldn’t like to work under it.

But then I work in a totally different (sort of office) environment and I’m self-employed in any case. No boss? Well, you wouldn’t like to meet the voice in my head, the right so-and-so who, across four decades, has never allowed me to miss a single match through illness or anything else (touch wood).

Footballers, in many cases, are hardly what you’d call self-motivated. They need – and especially the young ones besotted with their phones – “getting after”, so to speak.

The problem with modern society, especially where it applies to football, is that the manual of political correctness simply isn’t (to quote an in-vogue phrase) fit for purpose.

Academy coaches, often loaded with as much paperwork as schoolteachers, have to tick all manner of boxes – and not ticking-off, in the ways of the old-fashioned rollicking, is apparently among them.

It’s become too soft and cushy an environment, with no antidote to earning too much too soon.

That’s no excuse for the sort of misadventure that sent the likes of Curtis Woodhouse off the rails, nor would he plead it, but the former Blades waster-turned-boxing champ tells me: “The money I earned ruined my career.

“As a 17-year-old kid from a council estate, I went from £42 a week to £3,000 a week. The more money I got, the worse I got. Now you’ve got young players you’ve never heard of in the big club academies earning thousands a week.

“What is the drive to get in the first team? Money takes that away.”

While the money malaise is less acute at a lower level, there is a soft and slightly bloated underbelly to what is a tough, professional sport. If Wilder and his bluntness – he calls it “barking” – is creating a throwback environment at Bramall Lane then so much the better. Along with “good cop” Alan Knill, they are turning the club around good style.