Sheffield United:Chris Wilder on Millwall, culture and a Real Madrid connection
It was in 1994, following a surprise defeat by Sporting Gijon, when Real Madrid's coach famouslyÂ brokeÂ one of football's golden rules.
"If you play like that," Jorge Valdano reassured his players as they came to terms with the scoreline, "ThenÂ it really is okay to lose."
The same Jorge Valdano who, after winning one World Cup and eight other major honours, could best beÂ described as a serial trophy winner.
Chris Wilder smiled when those words were put to him before tomorrow's visit to Millwall. The SheffieldÂ United manager is a notoriously sore loser but, even worse than the thought of being beaten at The Den isÂ the prospect of a match devoid of passion, excitement or entertainment.
"I'm not to hard on the lads in terms of attitude or ambition," he responded. "We won't always be at ourÂ best.
"But they'll always give it a go which makes me proud. Because, if you've got that approach, I think you'llÂ do okay."
Different backgrounds, same outlook:
Valdano, the former Argentina centre-forward, and Wilder, who was brought-up in Arbourthorne, boastÂ very little in common. Except their outlook on the game.
One made his name at the Santiago BernabÃ©uÂ Stadium. The other is forging an enviable reputation inside the much less auspicious but equallyÂ passionate surroundings of Bramall Lane.
But, in an era where many fellow professionals are seemingly more scared of losing than they areÂ determined to win, they both stand-out like beacons in a dull and grey landscape.
Rather than beÂ consumed by fear, Wilder shares Valdano's belief that footballers should express themselves. BeÂ encouraged to create. Not smothered by tactics or strangled by strategies.
"I've got a vision how I want the team to play and I've got a vision how our supporters want to play,"Â Wilder continued, explaining his footballing philosophy. "That's the biggest thing, getting the team and theÂ supporters in tandem, it really is. I wouldn't change the way we go about it for a thing."
A lifelong follower of the club and former United player, Wilder's insight into what makes it tick has provenÂ invaluable since his appointment nearly two-and-a-half years ago.
Two managers, two former players:
Promoted at the first time of asking,Â United mounted a serious challenge for the play-offs last term and are preparing for Saturday's visit toÂ Millwall fourth in the Championship table.
What makes the visit to London so fascinating is that Neil Harris, his counterpart at The Den, also boastsÂ the same in-depth knowledge of his employers' cultural sensibilities. They approach matches in differentÂ ways - Millwall are unashamedly direct - but both teams, hard-working and unpretentious, reflect their localÂ communities.
"I'm delighted and proud how our boys set up," Wilder, reflecting on last weekend's victory over PrestonÂ North End, said. "We're never dull.
"They showed character to get back up the canvas after doing more than enough, in the first 60 or 70Â minutes to be well out of sight. I think even the most ardent of Preston fans would admit that."
The form guide:
United travel to the capital searching for their fifth win in seven outings. Millwall, who emerged as top sixÂ contenders five months ago, have found this season much tougher going and, without a win in five, willÂ enter the fixture inside the relegation zone.
Artists and architects:
Although Wilder is full of respect for his side's latest opponents, the murmurs of discontent which greetedÂ Tuesday's evening's EFL Cup defeat by Fulham could shape United's approach. Accompanied by severalÂ members of his backroom staff, Wilder watched the tie in person and, despite Harris' attempts to paper overÂ the cracks, will instruct United to pick away at them by making a fast, aggressive start.
Their ability toÂ shackle Steve Morison, who laid the platform for Millwall's win during the corresponding fixture lastÂ season, will also influence how the contest unfolds. Mark Duffy and Oliver Norwood are United's artistsÂ but Jack O'Connell, Chris Basham and John Egan could be the architects of any success in south London.
"We're producing some really good stuff, even when we've not got the result," Wilder said. "The challenge now is to carry that on.'Â