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 famously broke one of football's golden rules.

Thursday, 27th September 2018, 6:22 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th September 2018, 6:27 pm
Sheffield United defender Jack O'Connell is encouraged to express himself

"If you play like that," Jorge Valdano reassured his players as they came to terms with the scoreline, "Then it really is okay to lose."

The same Jorge Valdano who, after winning one World Cup and eight other major honours, could best be described as a serial trophy winner.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder wants his players to create

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Chris Wilder smiled when those words were put to him before tomorrow's visit to Millwall. The Sheffield United manager is a notoriously sore loser but, even worse than the thought of being beaten at The Den is 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 our best.

"But they'll always give it a go which makes me proud. Because, if you've got that approach, I think you'll do okay."

Different backgrounds, same outlook:

Sheffield United's Chris Basham could be a key figure at The Den

Valdano, the former Argentina centre-forward, and Wilder, who was brought-up in Arbourthorne, boast very little in common. Except their outlook on the game.

One made his name at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The other is forging an enviable reputation inside the much less auspicious but equally passionate surroundings of Bramall Lane.

But, in an era where many fellow professionals are seemingly more scared of losing than they are determined to win, they both stand-out like beacons in a dull and grey landscape.

Rather than be consumed by fear, Wilder shares Valdano's belief that footballers should express themselves. Be 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," Wilder continued, explaining his footballing philosophy. "That's the biggest thing, getting the team and the 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 proven invaluable since his appointment nearly two-and-a-half years ago.

Two managers, two former players:

Promoted at the first time of asking, United mounted a serious challenge for the play-offs last term and are preparing for Saturday's visit to Millwall fourth in the Championship table.

What makes the visit to London so fascinating is that Neil Harris, his counterpart at The Den, also boasts the same in-depth knowledge of his employers' cultural sensibilities. They approach matches in different ways - Millwall are unashamedly direct - but both teams, hard-working and unpretentious, reflect their local communities.

"I'm delighted and proud how our boys set up," Wilder, reflecting on last weekend's victory over Preston 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 70 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 six contenders five months ago, have found this season much tougher going and, without a win in five, will 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 greeted Tuesday's evening's EFL Cup defeat by Fulham could shape United's approach. Accompanied by several members of his backroom staff, Wilder watched the tie in person and, despite Harris' attempts to paper over the cracks, will instruct United to pick away at them by making a fast, aggressive start.

Their ability to shackle Steve Morison, who laid the platform for Millwall's win during the corresponding fixture last season, will also influence how the contest unfolds. Mark Duffy and Oliver Norwood are United's artists 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.'