Football is an increasingly fickle business where loyalty doesn’t seem to stretch very far at all, but it is still pretty inconceivable to imagine a situation where Chris Wilder jumps ship from Sheffield United after leading them back into the Championship.
But sudden speculation last weekend linking Wilder with Sunderland and Crystal Palace sent some Blades fans, still high on the euphoria of last season’s League One title win, almost into meltdown.
United, of course, is Wilder’s club; he watched them from the terraces at Bramall Lane, became a ballboy, a player and then a manager, but has always remained a fan.
The pride on his face when he took over was indescribable; the pain, too, when a horror start to his reign saw United chained to the foot of the table.
And then came the elation of promotion, the title and 100 points. making it 199 in two seasons. But this one was different. This one was United.
But it would be unwise, at the least, for United’s fans and directors alike to simply bury their heads in the sand this summer and hope speculation linking Wilder with moves elsewhere will simply go away.
He is a manager whose stock is undoubtedly rising by the season, having never been sacked in his career, and has left clubs in an altogether healthier state than they were in when he arrived. So, too, at United; after years of overspending and underachieving, Wilder took back control of the budget and turned around not just events on the pitch, but brought fans and players together once more.
Look at Sunderland’s plight after being relegated from the Premier League. Is it any surprise they are casting admiring glances in Wilder’s direction?
It shouldn’t go any further than that, though. Wilder found himself backed into the bookies’ favourite for the Stadium of Light almost out of nowhere but there would be infinitely more cons than pros. Sir Alex Ferguson always advised young managers to pick a chairman, rather than a club and Sunderland’s, Ellis Short, wants out, so much so he is reportedly keen to sell up for a cut-price £85m.
But while Sunderland, at least on the face of it, would appear an unlikely destination if any approach was made, there will be a host of clubs keeping tabs on one of English football’s most successful managers in recent years and some will be in better shape.
Yes, Wilder may be a Blade through and through and his loyalty cannot be brought into question. But that loyalty works both ways, too, and United cannot simply expect his love for the club to be enough if a job comes along that truly makes him think twice.
After all, and no matter how unlikely the situation may appear at the minute, would Wilder expect any favours because he’s a boyhood Blade, if United are bottom of the Championship come March?
United’s situation - with co-chairman, manager and skipper all boyhood Blades of the club - may be unique in modern football, but modern football is still the parameters they are working in and they are not immune to its unique and often bewildering ways.
Alan Biggs, a respected journalist of some standing in this area and a columnist with this newspaper’s sister title, the Sheffield Telegraph, broached the subject with Wilder recently when he appeared on his Sheffield Live TV show.
“I [understand] the speculation, because we’re doing well,” Wilder admitted.
“The players are doing well too so there’ll be speculation about them. So of course we’d rather have it but I’m in the first year of a three-year deal, and I’m content.
“Why wouldn’t I be with what we’ve done this year? And where we think we can take the football club? I’ve always been quite relaxed about stuff like contracts, and we just get on with our jobs.
“If United want to sit down then of course I’d do that, find out where the club is going and if I’m going to be a part of that.”
“I don’t want to make a big thing of it, but I imagine there’ll be conversations about a new deal,” Wilder added.
“I’m relaxed and would love to kick on into the new season and go from there. You want to be treated the proper way, of course, and I have been. I have nothing but praise for the way I’ve been looked after.
“I was grateful to be offered the job and as far as I’m concerned, it’s onwards and upwards for us.”