Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: Keeping Chris Wilder happy is of utmost importance

To Sheffield United fans - every man, woman and child - only one thing really matters right now.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 5:00 pm
Chris Wilder of Sheffield United during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth. Picture date: 10th August 2019. Picture credit should read: James Wilson/Sportimage.

Keeping Chris Wilder and keeping him happy; preserving the powerful chemistry fuelling the club’s best era for nearly three decades.

Who really “owns” a football club? Documents might state one individual or group.

In both real and emotional terms, that group is the supporters.

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Chris Wilder of Sheffield United during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth. Picture date: 10th August 2019. Picture credit should read: James Wilson/Sportimage.

The stand-out line from Prince Abdullah after wresting control from Kevin McCabe fittingly accords with that sentiment.

His deposed rival would, as always, say the same as he vows to fight on.

Who is the most important individual at Sheffield United? That person is unquestionably Wilder, even if, like anyone else, he is not bigger than the club.

And who are the people the manager leans on the most? The players.

United co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah.

So, whatever a High Court judge may have decreed this week, the identity of Sheffield United IS the fans who have rallied behind manager and team to proudly embody a newly-restored Premier League club.

It might be different at other places. At clubs, for instance, where supporters are disaffected with the manager and players; at clubs where dressing rooms are divided.

Even there, the truth holds that those clubs essentially “belong” to the supporters.

What makes Sheffield United special at this time in its long and rich history is that the most spiritually important components have never been more together. That has to be protected.

It has taken more than three years to create, but can be destroyed almost overnight.

Every supporter and player is bonded to the boss who has transformed the club and he to them.

These are the people at the heart of it all.

Any owner, chairman or director tampers with this at their peril. Which is not to say that either of the protagonists in the Blades boardroom war would wish to do so, certainly not long-time chief McCabe and, by early declaration, the Saudi Prince also.

Not to say, either, that they can’t claim credit for the club’s resurgence. In fraught personal circumstances, they both continued to invest.

McCabe was particularly emotionally invested, forming a unique trinity of chairman, manager and captain being fans of the club.

You can’t help but feel for him, one of the good guys of football ownership who has dedicated heart, soul and huge amounts of cash in the place.

For him it is about far more than receiving back only roughly half of his £100m investment, once property values - separate from the Prince’s £5m shares conquest - are calculated.

What of Wilder? He has painstakingly avoided taking sides, but has obviously known McCabe far longer and for reasons, not least of geography, has been closer to the man who effectively appointed him.

An attempt from the Prince’s camp to impose a European coach (Jan Van Winckel, who is still involved) on the recruitment front was fought off by the manager, whose methods at the head of a tight-knit team have been fully vindicated.

But I think any panic over Wilder’s future is highly premature and hopefully proves false.

Providing he is allowed to continue to work his way - which is surely best for all concerned - the transition can be smooth.

Key man in this is chief executive Steve Bettis, who has skilfully mediated between the warring factions and is trusted by Wilder - and the Prince, who is to be taken at his word on having a good relationship with the manager.

The new owner is entitled not to be pre-judged, despite McCabe questioning his suitability. None of us really know him. I think supporters will, in the main, give him a chance to back up his words of reassurance on support, including financial.

The bottom line for fans is not who is top dog in the boardroom. It’s who represents them on the field and in the dug-out.

Keeping body and soul together means not disturbing this special chemistry, unusual in football at any level.

Let’s hope that continues to be the case and wish the Prince success. Both parties in the boardroom are to be congratulated for not allowing their legal feud to compromise it.

In the background, as for some time, lie potential American investors, albeit given less public encouragement from the new regime than the old.

Regarding this, a final reflection (for now, because he is by nature a fighter) on the McCabe era, stretching back a Bramall Lane record of 25 years.

Sheffield United will do well indeed to find so staunch and committed an owner in future.

n See page 17 for Blades boardroom latest