Chris Wilder reflects on his Sheffield United tenure ahead of new challenge; talks tactics, his exit and recruitment of Ramsdale, Berge

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After his longest spell out of football since he stepped into the game as a 16-year-old boy, Chris Wilder has reflected on the ups and downs of his time at Sheffield United and says he is ready to go again.

Wilder left his boyhood club Sheffield United in June, bringing to an end a remarkable period in which the Blades went from League One to the Premier League in the space of three years, were in with a good shout of qualifying for Europe before a global pandemic hit and then, robbed of their supporters and forced to play games behind closed doors, suffered a drawn-out and painful relegation back to the Championship.

The Wilder era ended with a terse statement on United’s official website, confirming the break by mutual consent, and the Blades moved to replace him with Slavisa Jokanović, the former promotion winner with Watford and Fulham.

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Wilder, too, has been close to a new role at West Bromwich Albion after Sam Allardyce’s departure, having also been linked to a host of clubs this summer.

"It's the first time in a long time, over 20 years [of being out of management],” Wilder said. “So I miss it, but I think the word is reflection.

"Reflecting on achievements - because it's been a great period at a club that I love, supporters that I adored working for, players that I really enjoyed working with, staff that were all together.

"Reflection of the stuff that we did well and the stuff we didn't do so well; I think it's important for any manager or coach to do that. It was important I did that over the period of time I was working, maybe not just at Sheffield United.

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Chris Wilder during his Sheffield United tenure: David Klein/SportimageChris Wilder during his Sheffield United tenure: David Klein/Sportimage
Chris Wilder during his Sheffield United tenure: David Klein/Sportimage

"It did go well for so long but unfortunately there was a period of time where it didn't go as well as we would have liked for various reasons - some that we can control, that I'll look back on in that reflection and try not to make those mistakes that we made in that period in an incredibly unforgiving, brutal division - and some stuff we couldn't control.

"Big injuries, Sheffield United supporters not being in Bramall Lane - I know a lot of clubs will say it, but them not being there to push that team on was really difficult to take and, I believe, affected us more than any other club in that division.

"They gave us the energy, the drive, the belief that turned defeats into draws and draws into wins and I think if you ask any player in the Premier League who's played there in front of 30,000 Sheffield United fans pushing their team on for a result, making it as noisy and hostile as possible, that was a real disappointment. But for the club moving forward, they'll have them back and I'm sure it will lift the players."

Wilder led United to two promotions in three years: Simon Bellis/SportimageWilder led United to two promotions in three years: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Wilder led United to two promotions in three years: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Wilder’s relationship with the Bramall Lane hierarchy broke down after a series of disagreements about the club’s long-term future, while transfers were also thought to be a bone of contention.

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"There's always two sides to a story but I know what went off,” Wilder said in an interview with Sky Sports.

“In my mind I'm comfortable and when my head goes on that pillow at night, I'm comfortable in the decision I made for the right reasons.

Wilder brought England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale back to Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/SportimageWilder brought England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale back to Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Wilder brought England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale back to Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"Everything that I did at that football club was for the best of Sheffield United. That's always how I've worked at other football clubs and I was always going to work in that manner at the Lane.

It's a club that I love, everyone understands that. There was never going to be a scarf [of another club] above my head after one or two weeks. That was never going to be the situation.

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"I'm disappointed, there's a little bit of sadness about it as well because it was a journey that ended abruptly and possibly, in a lot of people's opinions, ended too soon but that's the way football is, that's life, and I'll move onto the next challenge and try to climb that next mountain.

"I've worked all my life apart from a little period on a building site that didn't last too long!

"I've worked at every level and I want to get back, of course I do. I've missed it. When you've been in the game as long as I've been, you miss it dearly. I've enjoyed the break; it's been great to recharge the batteries and spend time with the family.

Wilder also signed Sander Berge: Simon Bellis/SportimageWilder also signed Sander Berge: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Wilder also signed Sander Berge: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“But now I'm ready to rock and roll and get back onto the next challenge.”

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Towards the end of his United tenure, Wilder was criticised for his loyalty to the 3-5-2 formation that took United into the Premier League in the first place and also questioned about his transfer record, particularly after spending big money on goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

The Blades now value Ramsdale at £40m while United will receive £35m if a club meets the release clause of Sander Berge, signed for £22m last January.

"I've coached all different shapes and systems. I think it's quite lazy that you get talked about in terms of the system getting sussed,” Wilder said of the criticism of his tactics.

"You always get judged on your recruitment but I think with the Premier League gets, there's always a lot of talk, a lot of opinion, a lot of noise and nonsense. You have to take that on the chin.

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“But we signed an England U21 goalkeeper who's gone on to be involved with a nation that got to the final of the Euros, and Sander, who was a highly coveted international.

"I think if you look at the overall picture of where we came from and the signings that we made, I'm not sure that gets done again in the manner that we did it, from the position that we were into the Premier League."

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