Alan Biggs: Could this Sheffield United legend be the answer to the ongoing boardroom uncertainty at Bramall Lane?
It's uncharacteristic. Pretty obviously, Chris Wilder has separated the team from the club to sustain Sheffield United's play-off push.
His team but, more deeply, his club. The club he played for and has always supported.
This week Wilder obliquely explained why making the Championship’s top six would be a bigger achievement than last season’s League One title by citing “certain things that have been flying around.” It was clearly a throw-away line in every sense, an unmistakable reference to the boardroom power struggle threatening to undermine a revival in the longer term.
History suggests that if United, the club, can find a way of trashing something good then they’ll find it. The manager has been at pains to ensure that United, the team, avoid following suit.
As in a vital midweek win over Middlesbrough setting up a huge game with another rival team, Millwall, on Saturday.
But it’s not healthy. Somehow, the hierarchy has to find a way of ring-fencing the driving force at the heart of the operation. It’s not politics that sets pulses racing but the football itself. And that, for two seasons, has been absolutely excellent.
Amid such inner turmoil, how United can create conditions in which Wilder would be happy to continue? I was initially confused by my own question. And then it struck me.
What the Blades need is an equivalent of Derek Dooley.
Of course, there will only ever be one Dooley, not only at Bramall Lane but in this city and across the football world.
The late legend of both Sheffield’s clubs has proved predictably irreplaceable. It remains no coincidence that United’s most successful spells of the modern era came while Derek acted as the buffer between manager and board.
Remarkably, Wilder and his team have gone it alone in that respect – so far.
Dave Bassett took United up two divisions, and kept them in the top flight for four seasons, with Dooley at his side. Neil Warnock subsequently achieved the club’s only other promotion to the Premier League via a similar relationship.
So who who could possibly fill that gap this time? Have I just named him? Not Warnock obviously, still going strong in his 70th year and committed to at least one more with promotion-chasing Cardiff.
Besides, it would have to be someone who didn’t want to manage again.
Bassett? The more I consider it, the more it makes sense. Still sprightly at 73 and with a vital interest in the game, a man regularly sought out for advice by any number of managers and coaches.
And someone who was Wilder’s boss at the Lane, from which they developed a strong mutual respect.
Wilder could not help but be unsettled by events outside of his control - the ownership wrangle between joint owners Prince Abdullah, who has launched a takeover attempt, and the still seemingly entrenched Kevin McCabe, to whom the manager owes most loyalty as the man who spearheaded his appointment and backed his plans.
What is needed is sound intermediary football advice for those in the boardroom and some essential support for a manager of proven methods who wants to carry on what he has started.
The board issue is not forever but, if it involves litigation, could take months. It’s a critical period for a future that should be so rosy. Maybe Bassett, on a part-time basis, could be the best answer to keeping body and soul together.
Because at the moment Wilder seems to be both of those things.