Alan Biggs: Whisper it, but this outcome would still be a step forward for Sheffield United

Chris Wilder, if you’re reading this, look away now. The manager who can’t bear to stand still has given himself such a hard act to follow that standing still next season will be progress.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 12:35 pm

We’ve been here before. Hopefully we’ll be here again. And again.

Picture this. A guy on a bike, head down, backside off the saddle, tearing it up. A coach following behind, not luxury but a decent model, is struggling to keep up, never mind overtake.

Or this. A marathon runner leading the race, putting on a spurt and suddenly overtaking the time car.

Chris Wilder talks to the players during a drinks break during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Sheffield United at St Mary's Stadium. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

In both cases we are talking about Wilder. For United, read either the coach or the time car.

Hopefully Chris won’t mind me saying he is no real athlete these days! But he leads his field in football management, practically bar none.

That’s why we’ve been here before and are likely to be again.

When before? After promotion from League One in 2017, an instant demand to compete at the top of the Championship.

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Then, after a first challenge spluttered out, a verbal banging of heads of joint owners waging a power battle.

Next, after surging to promotion on the proceeds of a boardroom compromise, a demand to have a real go - in the Premier League.

Cue another crossroads last midwinter when the manager’s contract became a behind-the-scenes issue, along with an initially very modest January budget.

Result: New deal, increased funding and a new club record signing as Sander Berge arrived for £22m.

For Wilder, it’s always been an effort of sheer will. Anyone who thinks he will stop here - a magnificent ninth place in the Premier League - had better think again.

Which is why one particular comment after United’s final home game had such a familiar echo: “The team is ahead of the club and it’s important the club catches up.”

Not a threat, just a reality. Wilder has somehow seamlessly maintained his side’s progress throughout boardroom strife that finally resolved itself with Prince Abdullah taking full control and, let’s be honest, making an extremely purposeful start at the helm.

The relationship appears to be very good with the Blades boss acknowledging, in terms of support, that he is “sure the owners will do that in the best way.”

Wilder won’t want them to break the bank or put the club at risk. As ever, he’ll try to make a relative little go a long way, knowing the Blades are never going to be real big spenders in the Premier League.

His talk of wheeler-dealing and maximising what he’s given tells its own story really. Nothing off limits, in my opinion ... big offers for players would be considered if the squad could be strengthened overall.

It’s an increasingly taller order to make progress from this sort of lofty platform. And, make no mistake, Wilder won’t countenance sliding backwards. For his club. Or himself. And, of course, he’s more than marketable.

I don’t think anyone realises how close United were to losing Wilder back in late November/ early December. He wants to win top honours, preferably here but elsewhere if necessary.

So a huge challenge awaits all round. There’s no menace in any of the above. Taking a leaf out of Wilder’s own book, it’s simply telling it as it is.

But I tell you what - he and United will do darn well just to stand still on this occasion!