Alan Biggs: The wholesome aspect of Sheffield United that hasn't dimmed under Premier League lights

One thing you can guarantee, for as long as Chris Wilder is Sheffield United manager he will do the job his way - in a proud and principled manner.

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 12:29 pm

The deep-rooted issues that surfaced during last week don’t just disappear, even after two victories in four days that have produced relief on a euphoric scale.

But there is no greater salve for festering wounds than winning football matches. That this will soothe both sides in the operational argument is a cause for hope beyond the sudden flickering of Premier League survival chances.

It’s as important how Sheffield United go about the rest of the season, including any January recruitment, as if they were winning routinely - and that includes the way they play the game.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder shouts during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Newcastle United at Bramall Lane . (Oli Scarff/Pool via AP)

I know that Wilder has been wrestling with something on top of halting his team’s slide and resolving differences in terms of method and direction with his employers.

It’s been about what the Blades represent outside of the league table, beyond the currency of points.

Winning for its own sake is vital now. But then so are United’s values as a club, the way they represent themselves on the field, the way they have represented the manager throughout his four-and-half years in charge.

That hasn’t only been defined by what has been, until the last few months, a rampantly successful era. It has been about competing fairly, with the game’s integrity and Wilder’s own values at heart.

His inner personal struggle, much more so this season than last, has been to avoid the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality.

I’m talking about screaming and squealing for fouls, feigning injuries to break up the flow of the game, going down easily to try to win penalties and, in short, just plain cheating.

There’s not much of any of that in the Championship or throughout the EFL, right down to football’s grassroots.

But in the Premier League, to a greater or lesser degree, it is very sadly commonplace. So much so that we barely notice it any more; disgracefully, it’s just a normal part of the game.

Wilder could hardly be labelled naive after a lifetime in football but ex players and pundits have suggested he should wise up, “play the game.”

I’d be surprised if the same nudge and wink hasn’t even come from the refereeing fraternity because, contrary to what you might think, managers and match officials do have a friendly exchange of private views on occasions.

Everyone in the game knows United’s essential honesty has put them at a disadvantage against some opponents.

It’s not the reason they foot the table but so many matches have been close that it is very plausibly a factor. Hence the temptation for Wilder - and I believe he has agonised over it.

However, I feel he would be wrong to follow the crowd and I’d expect him to draw the same conclusions.

For starters, two wrongs don’t make a right. Beyond that, how many United players, many recruited from the more wholesome EFL, have it in their DNA to cheat?

It’s not their natural instinct, so you’d guess they’d be pretty poor at the dark arts.

Take the recent defeat at Crystal Palace. Wilfred Zaha flailed an arm at Jayden Bogle. The former Derby player looked aggrieved but it was beneath his dignity to go down; not sure Zaha would have thought twice.

But there’s a bigger reason for players behaving properly. It’s Wilder knowing he’d given his blessing and having to live with himself after always preaching against theatrics and being scathing of those who indulge in them.

So, whatever the desperation for results, there is a well-deserved reputation to protect. Wilder is admired for his principles and sticking to them, as he will continue to do with his own hands-on style of management.

That, for me - in both cases - is too big a prize to lose, even if the Premier League is lost.