Alan Biggs: Keeping everyone happy counted for a lot at Sheffield United

Leon Clarke had a huge upturn in form towards the end of the season just when it seemed like he was being phased out
Leon Clarke had a huge upturn in form towards the end of the season just when it seemed like he was being phased out
0
Have your say

It’s the process everywhere; as squads are strengthened, some erstwhile first team regulars will inevitably find themselves on the fringe.

At Sheffield United, make a note of those names and ring them. Chris Wilder will have done so to the extent that he will make no attempt to squeeze them out against their will.

Smiles have been a feature of Chris Wilder's Sheffield United reign

Smiles have been a feature of Chris Wilder's Sheffield United reign

Because he knows the aces in the pack can be the ones near the bottom of it.

The mistake you can make, as some of us did so spectacularly with Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman last summer, is to write people off. But it goes deeper than encouraging players who are made available for transfer to re-stake a claim.

A season always has its high-profile casualties; players who are either injured or off form. Or both, as was variously the case with Leon Clarke last season. In finishing the season on a surge of goals to finish with a highly respectable nine across a severely disrupted campaign, the 32-year-old striker posted the best example of an inclusive approach.

Considering Clarke’s much-travelled career, there was an inclination to consign him to Bramall Lane history after the signing of James Hanson from Bradford City. Maybe that, combined with improving fitness, was the spark the player needed.

It was also testament to Wilder’s methods and a theory holding good about players “on the fringe” of a squad. “They’re the ones who get you over the line,” he insists.

But it comes down to common decency as well. Much as Wilder is a strong disciplinarian, he is “100%” against isolation tactics, ostracising players, making them train with the kids.

An outcast can be suddenly needed in the event of injuries, suspensions or loss of form. As Wilder puts it: “If you’re absolutely mugging the other lads off then you’ve got to get them back in the fold. So they’re all treated as one and we do specially talk to them. We’ve got a sports psychologist as well... to make sure that when they come into the team they produce proper performances.

“And that’s what got us over the line this year. Everybody played a part.”