Nick Montgomery isn’t happy.
The former Sheffield United midfielder, now of Central Coast Mariners, has spent four years watching from afar as his old club tries and fails to win promotion. And, for the most part, been distinctly unimpressed by what he has seen.
Fortunately, for the sake of both the League One club and Montgomery’s sanity, he believes Chris Wilder’s appointment means things are about to change.
“Too many players have signed for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “They’ve been more bothered about themselves than the team. I don’t mind saying it. In fact, I think it needs saying. But, with Chris coming, that definitely won’t be happening anymore. You can totally guarantee that.”
Montgomery might be based 10,000 miles away on the eastern coast of Australia but, as he explains during a brief return to England, his belief in Wilder is based on first-hand experience rather than blind faith.
United’s new manager was a player at Bramall Lane when Montgomery enrolled on their youth system. Nearly two decades, three teams and more than 500 professional appearances later, Monty is still benefiting from the 48-year-old’s advice.
“Chris was great with all the young lads and apprentices. Jags (Phil Jagielka) who came in with me will say exactly the same thing,” he said. “He helped us both and I’ve kept in touch with him ever since.
“Chris was one of the older lads who was always happy to tell you what you should be doing, how you should be doing it and why it was the right thing to do. That’s because he cared about the football club. He didn’t want anybody there who was going to mess it around or not represent it properly. You always knew how much he cared.”
Wilder has been at pains to point out that his reputation as a coach, not being a United supporter, got him the job when Nigel Adkins was sacked last month. Previously of Northampton Town, where he lifted the League Two title, Wilder has also achieved success with Oxford United, Alfreton and Halifax Town.
Some commentators have warned mixing business with pleasure could prove difficult for him to handle. Montgomery, after hearing Wilder insist “attitude” is a quality every United player must possess, disagrees.
“I don’t think it’s a problem that Chris is a fan. Because he’s damn good at what he does, it’s a plus,” he said. “Chris understands the club, he knows what makes it tick, he knows what the supporters want because he’s one himself. If you aren’t totally committed, you’ll be out.”
A member of the United squad which reached the Premier League in 2006, Montgomery’s words carry weight.
“Back then, (manager) Neil Warnock had exactly the same approach. He placed huge emphasis on character and if there were any bad eggs in the dressing room then they very quickly got rooted out,” he recalled.
“They wouldn’t have lasted long anyway with people like Chris Morgan in there. More than anything, it was that spirit that enabled us to do what we did. You can already see that Chris is going about things in the same way. He appreciates what it takes.”
Montgomery, who made his United debut against Norwich City 16 years ago, cites Wilder’s unsophisticated approach as evidence.
“It pains me to say it but, in recent years, I think United have lost their identity a bit,” he said. “Now, with Chris being there, that’s going to come back. Jags and I used to hang about at the ground all the time, in the ticket office and suchlike, after training because we enjoyed being there. We loved the place so much. It was one big family - players, coaches and the staff behind the scenes. We won together and we lost together.”
Montgomery represented United on 397 occasions before heading to Australia, following a brief loan spell at Millwall, at the start of the 2012/13 campaign.
“It’s good that there are lads like Billy Sharp and George Long in the team because you know they are going to give their all during every single game,” he said.
“They care about Sheffield United and they aren’t going to let it down. There are others like that too but, unfortunately, not everyone is the same. I still watch all the games on television and, as far as I’m concerned, some of the players who have been there recently take defeat too easily.
“It doesn’t hurt them as much as it should, whereas with Billy, George and a few others, you know they’ll always be ready to do whatever it takes. I feel a sorry for the owners because they’ve backed every manager they’ve had, with wages and whatever, and not always got value for money.”
United parted company with Adkins after finishing 11th in League One last season - a situation Montgomery, who is now studying for his UEFA A licence, says backs up his argument.
“It’s a tough competition and, when you are a United player, you are there to be shot at,” he said. “So that’s why you’ve got to have guts and be ready to grind things out. Bramall Lane should be a horrible place, in the nicest possible way, for opponents to come to. The fans don’t ask for much, they just want to see people giving 100 per cent. If they do, they’ll back you to the hilt.
“With people like Billy, who is always going to score goals, you shouldn’t be going too far wrong if the character is right. I don’t understand when I hear people saying expectation at United is a problem. You should be massively proud to play for a club and for fans like that.”
Montgomery, the Mariners captain, returns to Gosford later this month.
“It’s a shame that every time I’m back the season is over because it would have been great to pop in and see some of the players,” he said.
“I love United. That’s why I stay up through the night to see the matches on TV.
“There’s no way a club like United should be in this division, let alone for as long as it has been. But, from what I can see, it’s back on track.”