Sheffield United: '˜If footballers can't handle the truth, they're in the wrong business'
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, insisted he will always "tell it like it is" after refusing to protect his players from the harsh reality of life at the top of the Championship.
Admitting the modern preference for mollycoddling footballers gets "right up my nose", Wilder reserved the right to criticise them publicly during a brutally frank critique of United's performance during a 2-1 defeat at Derby County, which saw the visitors surrender first place in the Championship table.
Claiming two moments of carelessness had undermined an otherwise encouraging display, Wilder said: "I can say that to the players. I can say that because I'm the manager of the football club and they are employees of the football club. And, on top of that, they earn a damn good wage.
"Listen, there's no bigger advocate of this group than me. I don't bash them up for the sake of it. But what I will do, and will always do, is tell it like it is."
United slipped to second, behind Middlesbrough on goal difference, after being beaten by Frank Lampard's side. Although they went on to dominate the first-half after conceding in the opening 20 seconds of the game, Wilder refused to take any comfort from either the visitors' dominance before the break or his opposite number's praise for their performance.
"I won't dress it up, psychologically or anything, because we've lost," he continued. "I'm not bothered about psychological stuff. They've won and we've lost. End of. It makes me laugh when people dress things up. People were telling me afterwards 'what a great game' and 'you must be proud to be taking part in it at the top end.' I hate all this 'isn't it great be be involved at the top end of the league' and all that rubbish. I hate it. It's a nonsense because football is only great if you win."
Asked why, despite the reluctance of some managers to speak openly outside the dressing room, he takes a different approach, Wilder added: "My uncle, my brother and my pals have to go to work. Nobody is putting an arm around them when they have to go to work are they?
"Be better. Stop the cross (for Derby's second goal), be better at the top end of the pitch. We've got good players but we can do better. We played alright but if a few more players had produced '8's' or '9's' then we'd have won."
Craig Bryson fired Derby in front immediately after the kick-off before Chris Basham equalised following a piece of individual brilliance from John Fleck. The defender's goal came after United had seized control of the game but Jack Marriott scored during the closing stages, as the hosts, now fifth, wrestled back the momentum.
"I thought we recovered fantastically well and completely dominated the first half against a really good team," Wilder said. "We should have gone in not level but on top of the game. In the second, we were more sloppy. But saying that, between myself and the coaching staff, we never really saw them grinding us down. It was going to be a bit of magic, from us or them, ot players switching off. And we switched off."
"The league is going to be wide open," Wilder added. "We had an opportunity to get three more points today and we didn't. When the big moments came, they found their big moment and we didn't."