Chris Wilder reveals what makes him so proud to be Sheffield United manager
Listen to Chris Wilder speak about Sheffield United and it is clear, absolutely crystal, he views them as more than just a club.
Fellow coaches, staff and fans are actually a family. Together, according to the 52-year-old, with players past and present.
Wilder’s belief in the importance of togetherness explains why, as preparations for tomorrow’s visit to Arsenal gathered pace earlier this week, he ensured there was room on his schedule to attend an important event.
Some managers might have made their excuses. But not United’s.
“You’ve got to buy into this football club,” Wilder said, noting how many famous faces were present at a Monday’s disabled supporters group dinner.
“It’s not always highlighted or talked about, the work the lads do.
“Whether it’s commitments to the community or the city as a whole, we are all pulling in the same direction. One of the proudest things we’ve done is bring all of that together and the ex-players are a big part of what is happening.”
Despite being sixth in the table ahead of their trip to north London, Wilder knows his squad must maintain that sense of solidarity to stand a chance of beating opponents he believes, following Mikel Arteta’s appointment, will pose a much stiffer challenge than the side United encountered at Bramall Lane three months ago.
Back then, during the dying embers of Unai Emery’s reign, Lys Mousset’s first-half goal proved enough to condemn Arsenal to defeat and edge the Spaniard a step closer to the exit door.
But Arteta’s presence in the technical area has, United’s analysts reported in their pre-match briefing to management, coincided with an upturn in the three-time Premier League champions’ work-rate.
Which, given the talent at their disposal, makes them a formidable proposition.
Still, although he is desperate for United to prevail, Wilder does not view the number of victories they achieve as the only gauge of success.
“When we went to that function, it made me proud of all the things this club does,” Wilder said.
“Including the way it connects with the ex-players and recognises their achievements.
“I think it’s great for supporters as well, because they can reminisce and talk to the boys themselves.
“Whenever I go to a dinner, it’s always striking how many ex-players are there too.
“Whether it’s the first team, the women’s team, the academy or the under-23’s, everyone goes to make up this club.
“And the same goes for people who have been here in the past.”
Those include the likes of Tony Currie, Len Badger, Ted Hemsley, Tony Agana and Carl Bradshaw who have not only provided Wilder with good counsel since his appointment in 2016, but also those responsible for delivering promotions from League One and the Championship.
“I know when Mark (Duffy) was still here, he used to speak with TC a lot,” Wilder said.
“And that’s brilliant.
“I always get the impression at some places that the old boys don’t want the current crop to do that well because they want to be remembered as the best.
“Nothing could be further from the truth here.”
“Listen, when you’ve had your head rubbed at a club for 10 or 15 years and then suddenly that all stops, all the adulation goes, you’ve got to find something else to do,” he added.
“It stops just like that and it can be quite difficult.
“I love it when I go somewhere like Everton, with all their old players around the place.
“Actually, I think it’s brilliant and I’m so proud we’ve got the same.”
United have to delve deep into their history books to remember the last time they beat Arsenal away from home. In order to complete what would be a remarkable league double, given the difference in resources between the two clubs, they must break a winless run tracing all the way to August 1971, when Stewart Scullion scored the only goal of the game at Highbury.
“One of the things I love is that the boys who were a part of that, and ones who came later like Gagey (Kevin Gage) and Keith (Edwards) will be willing us to do it because they’re all big supporters.”