James Shield's Sheffield United Column: What Chris Wilder '˜gets' that others don't
Sheffield United supporters will shed no tears over West Ham's current plight.
Indeed, as one social media wag commented earlier this week, the Premier League will probably dock Chris Wilder’s side points in response to events at the London Stadium last weekend.
Clearly, understandably and quite correctly given the shoddy way in which United were treated at the time, the sense of injustice caused by the Carlos Tevez Affair still runs deep both on the terraces and behind the scenes at Bramall Lane.
But the schism between West Ham’s owners and vast swathes of the club’s following, coupled with recent rumblings of dissatisfaction at places like West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City, highlight an issue Wilder seemingly ‘gets’ that others don’t: Football is a business. An entertainment one.
Although complaints at The Hawthorns and bet365 Stadium stem from issues about the quality of the goods on offer rather than poor communication, (a charge being levelled at Messrs Sullivan and Gold), they are linked to a degree; customers, as one prominent executive recently described supporters, expressing their frustration at being charged exorbitant sums to watch what they regard as a boring or sub-standard product.
In fairness to directors and managers, the human element of sport means performances can never be guaranteed. The most loyal fans, not those with a predilection for jumping aboard bandwagons, absolutely understand. But if you listen to many of those tasked with running or coaching squads, they speak purely about results. True, they help. But most fans, despite being portrayed as fickle, appreciate their teams will lose every so often and are capable, factoring in things like finance and revenue streams, of calculating what constitutes a successful season.
Yet former professionals-turned pundits still sneer at those who call radio phone-in shows or tweet television programmes to express frustration at the quality of the product they are being forced to digest. Results are important. Vitally important in fact. But, in this era of high ticket prices and nonexistent wage rises, coaches and players have an obligation to entertain. Yes, football should be taken seriously. But perhaps not quite as much as, say, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Such prosaic thinking only serves to reveal how out of touch these talking heads are with the masses.
Wilder evidently grasps this fact. He appreciates the game is ultimately about enjoyment. Which is why, no matter what the circumstances, United are always ordered to ‘have a go.’