Nigel Adkins used to a love a bit of “endeavour” but Chris Wilder, his successor in the Bramall Lane hot seat, prefers “b***s” and “attitude.”
Without dwelling too long on the former, it’s probably self-explanatory after all, the 48-year-old’s second favourite buzzword reveals plenty about the type of environment he is trying to create behind the scenes. One where, according to the dictionary definition, his players enjoy a positive “manner, disposition, feeling or position, etc, with regard to a person, tendency or thing.” The ‘thing’, of course, being Sheffield United.
Winning obviously helps. And, after a slow start to the present campaign, Wilder’s squad enter tomorrow’s match against their namesakes from Peterborough searching for their fourth straight victory in League One. Filling the dressing room with the right sort of characters helps too. Which goes someway towards explaining why, without betraying any confidences, he performed a ruthless cull after taking charge in May. (Several former employees have privately complained to me about the motivation and disposition of certain long-gone individuals over the past few years).
But, call me old fashioned, I think there are other ways to foster camaraderie besides masterminding a sequence of positive results. Of ensuring those charged with delivering success on the pitch take ownership of United’s future which, surely, is what everybody associated with the club wants.
Why not, for example, ask the first team players to help kit-out and maintain their own staff quarters? I can think of one ex-international who, after becoming a manager, ordered his charges to join him in doing exactly that. If someone capped four times by England could pick-up a paintbrush then, so his reasoning went, professionals with only lower league experience on their CV’s could hardly complain. The rudimentaries required to perform should always be provided by the club. The extra little comforts? Well, they should be earned.
Which brings me to another bugbear of coaches across England. The mental strength or, as Wilder would call it,”bottle” of our footballers. Jamie Carragher claimed following June’s Euro 2016 collapse to Iceland that: “Players no longer think for themselves.” The trouble is, they don’t have to because most things are handed to them on a plate. United, fortunately, have plenty of players with real-world experience after starting their careers in non-league. Mark Duffy, for instance, once worked with disabled children after combining representing Prescot Cables with his job as a Liverpool Council multi-sports coach. But, when United begin planning their next pre-season programme, how about asking the squad to organise the logistics themselves? It probably won’t happen. But, even though Wilder’s men are an admittedly poor example, perhaps it should.
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