They say you can’t compare teams from different eras – and truly you can’t. But when Sheffield United’s rampant progress under Chris Wilder stirs echoes of Dave Bassett’s back-to-back promotions of nearly three decades ago, there are more links than is commonly the case.
Wilder himself is the biggest having played for one team and managed the other. Relentless is the other common description that springs most readily to mind. Style of football? Very different.
There’s more than one way to play. It’s no disrespect to the Bassett era to say that, in purist terms, this team is serving up the finest football I’ve seen since the John Harris days of Tony Currie and Alan Woodward.
But underlying it are striking similarities. First, the sheer, dogged (yes, relentless) application of the way the team plays.
The Blades had an unswerving method under Bassett that the players all bought into and which delivered startling success. To dismiss it as long ball is, and was, churlish. With Brian Deane and Tony Agana up front, it provided what all fans ultimately want – excitement and goals.
Another similarity – and this is rare in football across all modern eras. Never, except in extreme circumstances, setting out for a draw or settling for one. Both teams have the same bravado and belief.
In fact, there are many more threads. Wilder’s side, just as Bassett’s, has been assembled relatively very cheaply. And then right to the core of it – the teamwork and camaraderie of a totally united, in all senses, dressing room.
It all amounts to the growing conviction that a promotion challenge is real and here to stay.
Wilder said the dressing room virtually ran itself during last season’s run-in to the League One title. Methods and attitudes had been ingrained by the management. You can see the same thing now.
Bob Booker, a journeyman hero of the Bassett double-bounce, watched from the Kop as United blitzed Hull 4-1 last Saturday.
He says: “What reminds me so much of our squad is there are no ‘Big-time Charlies.’ And I can’t believe the work rate, the way they are as a unit. If you can do that over 46 games you are on to a winner. They all do their jobs and that is a recipe for success.
“Six or seven of them have been captains at other clubs. Normally you might get only one or two leaders in a team. In my time we had a few as well – people like Big Stan (Paul Stancliffe) and Vinnie (Jones) when he came.”
But most of it comes down to one man. Bob agrees: “Dave Bassett was second to none as a man-manager and I think this manager is very, very close.
“His man-management is fantastic. The players can probably relate to Chris as the bloke who goes down the pub but he’s the gaffer in the dressing room and that’s priceless.”
That also mirrors Bassett’s knack for putting on what his assistant Geoff Taylor would call “different heads” for each environment. Heading up? Can’t honestly see why not.