Alan Biggs at Large: Wilder and United share same DNA

Someone with knowledge of the inner workings of Bramall Lane suggested to me in the summer that Paul Heckingbottom was on a 10-game trial in the Premier League.
Cue last weekend’s national paper story speculating on a return for Chris WilderCue last weekend’s national paper story speculating on a return for Chris Wilder
Cue last weekend’s national paper story speculating on a return for Chris Wilder

If true, I was aghast at the unfairness of it. Still, without proof, I ignored and instead wrote two columns urging Sheffield United to keep a damn good manager at the helm whatever happens.

Cue last weekend’s national paper story speculating on a return for Chris Wilder, possibly the only man who could make such a scenario in any way acceptable – and even then highly controversial.

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That story was not entirely without foundation in my opinion. As reported here many weeks ago, Wilder and Prince Abdullah have patched up their differences. Both accept they could have handled things differently and that Wilder should never have left in the first place.

Since then, Heckingbottom has justly earned a place in the pantheon of the Blades’ best modern day bosses, alongside Dave Bassett, Neil Warnock and obviously Wilder himself.

So here’s the thing. If Wilder were to return, as I strongly suspect he will at some time, why not the two together in a new management structure, including the same set of coaches?

I believe the ex-Blades boss would have an interest at some point in becoming a football overlord at Bramall Lane, running and driving that side of the club and, with chief executive Stephen Bettis, filling the void that has seemed to exist between manager and board.

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The fact is Wilder’s DNA is still running right through the club and has become the Blades’ DNA. It has lasted seven years already, since he achieved the first of two promotions in 2016-17. And former academy chief Hecky is one of its disciples.

Moreover, they are good mates who, I imagine, speak regularly.

In no other way, would I be advocating managerial upheaval. Cards on the table, I‘m proud to regard Chris as a friend. But there’s no way I’m cheerleading for his return at this point if it means Hecky getting sacked.

And I can’t imagine Chris would be comfortable with a sack/replace manoeuvre, certainly not at this stage.

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Whatever transpires, though, United have a vital chance to preserve a sense of identity that should stretch long into the future.

The Blades could – again – lose Premier League status but they have something important to clutch onto and treasure.

Having a team brand, a defined way of playing, is a precious prize in these faddy football days.

United, without thinking about it, have created their own. There can’t be many examples elsewhere of a team’s fundamental set up and function surviving so long.

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And the reason it remains intact is that Heckingbottom has reassembled the right pieces to operate it, post Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge.

It’s been there since Wilder took charge and altered only fleetingly during the short reign of Slavisa Jokanovic, whose intentions were better than the execution.

Basically, we know what to expect of a United team; aggression before caution, defenders who attack, bravery on the ball and a unit that fights for each other going both ways.

It’s not entirely new because the Blades have had variations of this before; for roughly the same period of time in the eras of Bassett and Warnock.

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Now comes a chance to keep the hallmark of the current era proudly on display.

It will serve United well whether they stay up or go down.

And it’s not about putting style over the substance of results. I believe United, under Heckingbottom, can show again they have a good way to get them. And the fans believe that too.