Alan Biggs: Sheffield United CAN replace a managerial legend - they've done it before

Thinking of the big shoes Sheffield United have to fill reminds me of how they actually achieved it the last time a genuine managerial legend left the Lane.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 12:30 pm

Dave Bassett and Chris Wilder are comparable figures; also, in the view from here, the top two of the last half-century on EITHER side of the city.

While I leave you to argue over a personal and neutral judgment partly based on achievement versus finance, what is beyond debate is that this calibre of figure takes some replacing.

Think, in relative terms, of Manchester United post Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal after Arsene Wenger.

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Dave Bassett - Sheffield United manager celebrates with the fans after winning promotion in 1990
Dave Bassett - Sheffield United manager celebrates with the fans after winning promotion in 1990

Which, on reflection, makes the events of December, 1995, all the more remarkable. And relevant.

What happened was that the Blades, under a new board, contrived to replace Bassett with an absolute managerial great in Howard Kendall.

I’m not saying something comparable is achievable now but ideally you need someone of high stature, both to appease dissenting voices and signal your ambitions.

There are differences in that, after dropping from a phenomenal four year run in the top flight, Bassett’s journey, spanning nearly seven years, had run its course.

There were tears in the car park but an acceptance all round of its inevitability with fans having gloried in the hugely successful period that still remains special to supporters of a certain vintage.

Whereas Wilder’s departure, inside five years, still feels like a mission unfulfilled, albeit that friction with new owners was the underlying reason in both cases.

That regime, controversially fronted by Mike McDonald and Charles Green and remembered entirely without affection, did at least provide some unexpectedly good times.

Kendall, boasting two league titles, a European Cup Winners Cup and an FA Cup at Everton, had United pushing strongly for a return to the top flight.

He was funded in a way that Bassett would have envied but attracted quality players like Gordon Cowans and Don Hutchison. Only a play-off final defeat to Crystal Palace barred the way - and Kendall returned to Goodison as the money ran dry.

“The right person at the right time,” recalls goalkeeper of the day Alan Kelly. “One of the best managers I’ve ever worked with...to walk through the door after a legendary manager and have a transformative effect.”

While present day United will be thankful for anyone of remotely similar calibre, Kelly insists any further tarnishing of Wilder’s reputation following owner Prince Abdullah’s recent interview would be out of order.

He told me: “Sadness is the overriding feeling. With what’s happened you’re probably not going to hear Chris’s side of the story. He truly is a Sheffield United legend and will remain so.

“If the club have acted in the right way, great, but don’t go into things that are going to sour that - the people’s view of Chris Wilder - because he doesn’t deserve that.

“He deserves the utmost respect both now and in the future. And he’ll want the club to do well because he’s a fan first and was an employee second.”