Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United Column: Chris Wilder trusts the Blades’ dressing room to run itself – and Ben Woodburn will learn from that

Chris Wilder
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It’s not often - if ever - that it’s relevant to quote Wayne Rooney in a Sheffield United column. But some things hold true in any of the best dressing rooms - at any level.

Managers keep control - or do they?

The names are more exalted but you may see a certain familiarity in what follows. Substitute a few of them, including Chris Wilder for Sir Alex Ferguson.

This is Rooney, talking recently about the importance of a strong and - yes - united dressing room: “The likes of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, myself would never allow anyone to mess that up. We controlled the dressing room ourselves.

“Alex Ferguson didn’t really need to control that. The players had the trust of the manager to do that themselves.”

Those words, transferred to Bramall Lane, go right to the core of this concerted Blades revival; the biggest reason of all why they have pushed on to lead the Championship ahead of Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest.

But the root of it goes back two seasons. I have a particular memory, from the time of the Blades storming to the League One title, of Wilder saying a big part of his job took care of itself.

While he has become known for the odd rant at full blast - even of hairdryer proportions - Wilder told me during that promotion campaign that he and Alan Knill simply let the players run the team.

That’s because the work had been done; of instilling a team ethic, of having the characters and leaders in the club to keep it in place.

So it is today. It’s been a seamless continuation with some of those personalities one and the same.

Take skipper Billy Sharp, still at the forefront of the club’s relentless rise with 11 goals this season.

Sharp is one of those who helps police the dressing room - against, ironically, the sort of attitude once occasionally displayed by himself. 

As Billy once again admitted last weekend, in the glow of a comeback hat-trick after being omitted for the previous game, there was a time when he “might have sulked.”

It’s not just about accepting and embracing his responsibilities as captain. Sharp would expect and demand the same of ANY player. And so would his team-mates. That’s effectively why beaten Wigan boss Paul Cook billed the Blades as “THE best TEAM in the Championship.”

It’s also why it’s so hard for those on the fringe to break into it; even someone of the quality of an uncomplaining Paul Coutts on his much heralded return from injury.

Even, too, someone as gifted as Ben Woodburn. Wilder placed great store on the 19-year-old’s loan capture from Liverpool, as the youngest scorer in Anfield history and Wales’ second youngest.

But nothing, not pressure from Liverpool and not frustration from the youngster, would prompt Wilder to break the bond of a team doing the business. Woodburn simply has to force his way in. That it is also best for his development and education is incidental.

Woodburn will be learning from the dressing room, too. He’ll know his place in that and hopefully be ready to take the chance to become a bigger part of it when the next opportunity knocks.