Alan Biggs: Sheffield United fans looking forward to chance to breathe again after Chris Wilder's rumour-filled week

There’s been a huge collective holding of breath by supporters of Sheffield United this week - and as this was written it had yet to be exhaled.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has been the subject of social media rumours regarding his future this weekSheffield United manager Chris Wilder has been the subject of social media rumours regarding his future this week
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has been the subject of social media rumours regarding his future this week

Clearly hanging in the balance has been the future of manager Chris Wilder, as rampant rumours will have been knocked down otherwise. Hopefully it will be resolved and all doubts removed - whether by compromise or a simple, much-needed breather from the pressures of the Premier League.

Without certain knowledge of the outcome, and in the absence of clarification from any source, you can only comment from previous intelligence, experience and intuition.

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At the heart of it all will be the conviction, confidence and morale of one of Sheffield United’s greatest bosses and the route favoured by the board at a major crossroads for the club.

It would be naive, I feel, to think there haven’t been fundamental differences, although this is not unusual at any club, particularly in these fraught circumstances.

Equally so to think that Wilder hasn’t been under huge and mounting strain, not just from those issues but inevitably from presiding over a rock bottom team with just two points from 17 games.

Practically everyone inside and outside the club believes he is still resoundingly the best man for the job, not least the task of restoring Premier League status assuming it is lost.

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But getting from here to there - with a restoration of pride and belief just as important as points - is the problematic bit.

Understandably Prince Abdullah’s board has concerns about pushing the boat out too far in the January window and loading up financial problems.

However, Wilder is right that the team is lacking Premier League quality and that only an infusion can lift a flagging, injury depleted side, mostly of players who have risen from levels below, for at least a fight to stay up.

The Blades boss knew he needed this for the current season anyway but a wages budget limiting top earners to around £45,000 a week prevented him from netting his top targets.

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Logically, he then focused on talent for development and there is no argument that last summer’s recruitment has had a disappointing return - so far.

I’m calculating this has led to a degrading of confidence in Wilder’s recruitment team and a board wish, long fought off by the manager, to wrest some control of a structure that, until the last window, has worked spectacularly.

This may have been a point of little or no compromise for Wilder, whose remarkable uplift of the club was achieved largely because of his hands-on control.

Why should a few months of struggle eclipse four years of incredible success?

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Wilder will also have been seeking signs of an academy upgrade and, you hear, have concerns about the owner buying clubs abroad considering the flagship needs more wind in its sails.

Certainly there has been no sign of the board seeking the sort of investment sorely needed, more of soldiering on from their own resources and mainly from revenue streams Wilder, Alan Knill and Paul Mitchell have created.

I don’t need to name the value-enhanced signings in the current squad. You can safely count to ten.

Finally comes the wear and tear of the Covid situation on a man who has worked relentlessly and continuously in management for 19 years.

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It’s not hard to imagine why he could be prompted to leave even his beloved club or why, faced with a public relations calamity, the board will have been desperate to change his mind in that event.

If Wilder felt he had taken his beloved club as far as he could then he might also conclude a change is in its best interests.

Whatever else, he rightly retains the support - indeed, the love - of almost the entire fan base and for him to depart would be one of the blackest and saddest days in the club’s history.

You can only hope Bramall Lane sees out this week with a very big puff of its cheeks.