Big is not always best. As Sheffield United and Chris Wilder will make a point of proving when they pool this summer’s finely-judged recruitment drive.
But the Blades boss is more than ready to embrace his next career challenge of handling bigger name players – providing they are not all suit and no overalls. That’s this column’s analogy, not Wilder’s, but it seems to fit.
He provides a different one when discussing any criticism of United’s hitherto relatively low profile signing initiatives, rebutting “the argument that we’re just shopping at Aldi.”
Anyway, without wishing to endorse one supermarket chain over another, what’s wrong with paying less for the same product, especially if it’s a bargain? You’ll find none of that sort of snobbery at Bramall Lane where Wilder has already demonstrated he will stand firm against demands from any player (Jay O’Shea, for example) that he considers less than good value.
However, those who take an almighty leap to the conclusion that value for money rules out paying big for a player who’s worth it, or that the manager is in some way fearful of reputations, don’t know the bloke. Wilder simply doesn’t shirk anything, meets issues head on.
“We will sign Championship players – we’re not scared of that, I’m not scared of that,” he tells me, instinctively anticipating and intercepting those wayward conclusions. “They’re human beings.”
Wilder doesn’t need to add that man-management is among his many strengths. But he does feel a need to stress: “We understand we’re going to have to kick on and be ambitious.”
For now, they are growing into it – by recruiting players whose careers are growing. Wilder cites Dele Alli’s League One background with MK Dons, not to mention Jamie Vardy’s incredible journey to the top from Stocksbridge Park Steels. If the talent is there, he’ll back them if he gets positive answers to these questions: “What’s the desire like? Can they fit into what you’re trying to achieve?”
One absolute no-no is “getting caught up in sexy signings and names.” Another is paying significantly polarised wages to land two comparable players, knowing it can breed discontent in a squad. “We will spend decent money, we’ll be competitive. We have done and will do going forward, but I will walk away from deals. The football club’s going to be here longer than me. There’s no way we’re going into financial meltdown.”
Similarly, Wilder is refusing to make a drama about the possibility of an improved personal deal, which I thought was more of a probability considering his name being linked to other jobs. The latest was a report in the south London press that Sam Allardyce had recommended him to Crystal Palace after the Eagles chief quit last week. “We’ll just get on with our jobs and if Sheffield United want to come and speak to us about extending then of course I’m going to be sitting down and talking to them,” says Wilder, twelve months into a three-year contract.
“I don’t want to make a big thing about it but I should imagine there will be a conversation.”
This conversation notes that he signed Simon Moore (Cardiff) and Mark Duffy (Birmingham) from the Championship (could add another with Ryan Bennett from Norwich) and has successfully managed several players of second tier pedigree, not least skipper Billy Sharp. And the chances are that several of those arriving at Bramall Lane from a lower level will be able to make similar claims in the future.