Alan Biggs: Forget consolidation at Sheffield United... Chris Wilder hopes to surpass last season's efforts at Bramall Lane
When it comes to Sheffield United Chris Wilder wears his heart on his sleeve as a badge of honour.
Just as he couldn’t hide his disillusionment at the end of last season season, you couldn’t possibly fake his excitement at the start of a new one.
It’s standard, of course, for managers to talk up a club’s prospects even when underneath they know it could count against them.
But from a recent evening spent with the Blades boss I can attest that he means every word, publicly and privately, when he describes himself as: “Full of excitement, full of optimism, delighted and proud to lead the club. I’ve had great experiences and I’m hungry for more.”
Wilder could be forgiven for sounding a note of caution. It’s that notorious second season at a higher level after riding a wave of enthusiasm to shock the Championship with an unexpected play-off push.
Riding it? Well, Wilder and company created that wave. Some reckon United will have been “sussed out”, as he puts it. And for all the bar-raising on signings, Wilder’s budget will remain comfortably in the lower half of the division. Not forgetting the battle raging above him for ownership of the club.
Put all of that together and you’d have to say that realistically the Blades will do well to match last season’s effort. Instead, Wilder embraces a genuine hope to surpass it. And that’s because he sincerely believes it can be done, based on the fact that an already tight-knit and resourceful squad is being further strengthened – rather than stripped, as in the case of some of United’s financially overstretched rivals.
In short, it’s better to be a medium-sized outfit on a growth spurt than a giant in self-inflicted starvation. Perceived over-achieving also carries a lot of attraction and incentive, not least to the players.
With that comes an attitude of mind Wilder believes United’s dressing room has lacked in the past. “They have played fearful football,” is his observation from years of staying close to his team while managing others. He wants “a Sheffield United team without fear.”
Last season he had one and he promises that the approach this time will be no different. “We’re going to go after you,” is his message to other teams, accepting that if they prove better then hands will be raised in acknowledgement.
“We attacked the division. I certainly didn’t think we got sussed out – we just didn’t have enough big moments. We feel we stamped our mark on it. Now it’s about bridging the gap to push on into those higher positions.”
Wilder means the top six and doesn’t hide or flinch from it. If that means lashing his tongue at the odd performance now, as he did quite spectacularly last season (and again after the Mansfield friendly last weekend), then expect him to do it. Once a standard has been set it’s unprofessional to accept less.
That also goes for the players in terms of expecting them to embrace signings who might put individual places under threat. Wilder quotes skipper Billy Sharp “relishing the competition we want to bring in” as an example of players welcoming the challenge of being in an ambitious dressing room.
Hold tight for another exciting ride.