Chris Wilder's comments on Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp provide a fascinating insight into Sheffield United's thinking ahead of FA Cup test
Together with 18 of his top-flight counterparts, including Jose Mourinho, Frank Lampard and former talk-of-the-town Pep Guardiola, Chris Wilder was invited to pay tribute to Liverpool, the newly crowned Premier League champions, and specifically their manager Jurgen Klopp during Friday’s round of pre-match media conferences.
The purpose of the exercise was to enable one television rights-holder, whose reporters had all been primed to ask exactly the same question, to piece together a montage of talking heads for its news bulletins later that evening chronicling events at Anfield.
But Wilder’s response was particularly coveted because he is the LMA’s reigning manager of the year and, until Sheffield United made a faltering return to action earlier this month, appeared well-positioned to retain that title despite Klopp’s achievements in the North-West.
It was actually a member of the written press who, after deciding to run with this particular theme himself, posed the question which elicited the most revealing answer from Wilder. Is Klopp now destined to wrestle the title from his grasp? The 52-year-old, whose team enters tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal without a win in its last three outings, explained why he doesn’t actually care.
“I don’t fight for anything individual,” Wilder said. “It’s a team sport. “If I did fight for individual honours, I would have a driver or a snooker cue in my hand. The season isn’t finished."
Wilder’s words, and the tone in which they were delivered, provided an insight into the mood behind the scenes at Bramall Lane ahead of the meeting with Mikel Arteta’s side. United are smarting after, unbeaten in six when competition was suspended three months ago, drawing one and losing two of their first three assignments since English football emerged from the shadow of coronavirus. Coaching staff hope that frustration can be translated into a combative display when the players renew their rivalry with Arsenal - eight months after beating the Londoners on home soil and five since deservedly sharing the spoils at the Emirates Stadium.
Wilder, who has struck up a friendship with Klopp since guiding United to promotion last term, believes the characteristics which have enabled the German to end Liverpool’s three decade long title drought reveal how his own side can arrest their disappointing downturn in form.
“Congratulations to Jurgen and Liverpool from everyone at Sheffield United,” Wilder said. “Week in week out, they’ve been incredible. The intensity and the desire, and that’s even before you start talking about the talented players they’ve got, is phenomenal.”
United were narrowly beaten 1-0 when Liverpool, who had just become World Cup Champions, travelled to South Yorkshire earlier this term. The return fixture was less competitive, although Wilder’s men were able to prevent Klopp’s charges from scoring more than twice after falling behind early on.
“I invited him (Klopp) in to present him with a bottle of champagne before the Liverpool game at our place and he wasn’t having anything to do with it,” Wilder said. “I understand why. Then he invited us in at their place and he was very complimentary.”