Alan Biggs: Why everyone at Sheffield United needs to stick to their guns

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
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It’s far from the start Sheffield United wanted. Or expected. Or demanded. In fact, any club in League One would be mortified to be bottom, let alone the biggest.

So what’s to be done? In a way, it’s very simple. The solution has been out there for a long while. Devise a plan, stick at it, don’t be deflected, give it some time and continuity. Words all easier said than done at a place like Bramall Lane but undeniably true for all that.

Latest manager Chris Wilder has yet to wave the proverbial magic wand, not that one was provided. For him, it’s more about a stick and carrot routine as he works on a reshaped squad. For the board, it’s clearly about devoting funds from the £2m Che Adams sale and ensuring signings can be expedited quickly.

But beyond that? How far-sighted is United’s hierarchy prepared to be? Surely to goodness it’s not another year of promotion-or-bust where the team boss is concerned?

It’s a conversation we really shouldn’t be having at this time. In fairness, the old chestnut would be far removed from the fire if Wilder’s team had started well and he takes full responsibility for not doing so. Except that history (nine managers in nine years) suggests we are right to be wary.

If there is anything to salvage and even be gained from United’s poor start, maybe it’s in raising this fundamental issue again right now, at the outset of another new regime. An opportunity to put down a marker and keep it there.

Even the cynic in me doubts there will be another premature judgment or panic decision, but it’s important to establish what is expected of the board on this occasion. Wilder knew when he took on one of management’s most precarious placements that a failure to win promotion in his first season would be just that; a failure. And he’d probably see it that way himself.

Would it make him a failure as a manager? Come on! Which is why this column believes everyone at the club should be clear and committed that he is in charge for a minimum of two seasons, whatever happens - barring anything unthinkable! Relegation from this league would end anyone’s tenure.

Wilder’s early struggles show that there is no quick fix, as many a predecessor found. It also demonstrates the difficulty of repeatedly starting the process all over again. I found the decision to remove Nigel Adkins in May more understandable than some but it still reflected badly on the club, having appointed him less than a year previously.

Talk to any manager on this subject and they will all say the same. It’s a familiar refrain that will send you to sleep. Indeed, it seems that everyone’s so bored that nobody is listening any more. But it doesn’t make the plea for time any less sensible.

One-time Blades boss Steve Thompson, who briefly held the reins on the way to the play-offs and an FA Cup semi-final in 1998, knows Wilder well. He signed him twice as a player, including bringing him back to the Lane for a second spell.

“If United give Chris time he’ll get it right,” Thompson tells me. “Teams are constructed. They are not built overnight. You’ve got to get your feet under the table. Even Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock found that.

“And besides, you don’t get jobs because teams are doing well. You get them because they’re not doing well. And that tells you there’s something wrong.”

Bored yet? Snap to it. Read on: “Chris was always a thinking man’s footballer. He understands the game and reads it. He was about 21 when I first came to the Lane as a player and he was managing Sunday sides even then. Chris is a very good man-manager, too, and he knows the challenge.

“But time is the big word in football. How many managers are given it? This season is a learning process for everyone and the following season is the one where you’ve got to produce the goods.”

And if that’s not worth listening to at S2 then I don’t know what is.