Sheffield United: Chris Wilder looks to bust a few myths before tonight's clash with Neil Warnock's Cardiff City
He might take umbrage at Neil Warnock's attempt to paint Cardiff City, despite recently acquiring a Â£6m centre-forward, as Championship paupers.
But if they do share a conversation following tonight’s match at Bramall Lane, and it turns towards the importance of physicality in football, Chris Wilder and his opposite number will find themselves on much safer ground. Such, Sheffield United’s manager admits in suitably forthright fashion, is his contempt for the myth that players must viewed as tacklers or technicians. Not both.
“Yes, it does hack me off,” Wilder says, “The idea that you are either a skilful side or a competitive side because I see us as a mix. We try and produce effective football in that we want to pass but not just pass for passing’s sake. The trouble is, if you listen to some folk these days, it’s black and white. They want to pigeon hole people or place them in stupid categories.”
With Warnock waging his own war against sporting snowflakes during a well-publicised spat with Pep Guardiola, United’s meeting with City promises to be brutally competitive on many different levels.
With both teams chasing promotion and the visitors second in the table, the already high stakes become positively vertiginous when you throw Warnock, the last man to reach the top flight with United, and Wilder, who is attempting to emulate that achievement, into the combustible mix. There is no shortage of mutual respect but, certainly on the latter’s part, a desire to dent his predecessor’s legacy.
“Behind every Cruyff-turn, rabona or whatever, there’s a solid tackle,” Wilder insists. “You can’t get away from that. The best players, the best teams, they don’t just focus on the eye-catching stuff. They put in the hard yards as well. Cardiff have a certain way of going about things, Neil has a certain way of going about things and, when you look at his record here, there and everywhere else, it’s very successful.
“We know what to expect and I fully expect it to be successful again although, and you won’t be surprised to hear me to say this, hopefully after the match here. I’m still not sure about them doing it on very little money, mind, because they’ve just brought in a striker for a pretty hefty figure.”
Despite his assertion that City will not intimidate United “on or off the pitch”, Wilder has also demonstrated great cunning since taking charge of the club 23 months ago. Strategy is important to the former Halifax, Oxford and Northampton Town chief. Both during games and, as he attempts to maximise a budget which would certainly not stretch to signing Gary Madine, behind the scenes.
“I just like to leave every club in a better shape than when I started,” Wilder continues. “Whether I’m here for five minutes, five months or five years, I want that to happen here as well.
“I want to see this club thrive when I leave, whenever that is. I always want this to be a really good club because it is. It has the potential to really kick-on. If I could help set that up, nothing would make me happier. The owners will decide. But we think this is a good way to do it.”
“Off the pitch as well, there’s stuff we’d like to improve as well,” he adds, in an oblique reference to United’s training ground. “We’d like us to become a more well-rounded club. And to become that, you always need a plan.”
Warnock spent eight years in charge of United before leaving, three days after their controversial relegation from the Premier League, in 2007. Although Wilder has plans to enjoy a similarly long reign, he referenced the decision to replace the 69-year-old with Bryan Robson, who in turn was succeeded by Kevin Blackwell and then Gary Speed, to emphasise the importance of systems.
“I had a conversation with someone the other night about the importance, if I go, of there not being major changes. It has to be club owned and club driven rather than manager or player driven.”
“The supporters, I think, want to see that. They are a massive influence because of the crowds we get. The clubs that have been successful, they don’t lurch. Truthfully, that’s been the case here in the past because we’ve gone from one way to another and back again. There’s always a change, nobody is the same, but the club sets the core principles.”
City beat United 2-0 in August when, following an injury to Richard Stearman, Nathanial Mendez-Laing and Sean Morrison breached the reigning League One champions’ defence.
“We had chances down there,” Wilder says. “But we’ve improved since then and this is a chance to show that.”