Alan Biggs Sheffield United column: Blades must show a united front

On the one hand a feat of distinction and nobility. On the other, the High Court equivalent of a street brawl. This is how Sheffield United’s dressing room and boardroom are separated at a moment of triumph.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 22 May, 2019, 15:12
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

In the week that the manager was feted as Manager of the Season, his bosses began a public power squabble that became sensationally – albeit tenuously and over-dramatically – linked to money from the family of a notorious terrorist.

You could headline it Beauty and the Beasts ... except that you have to acknowledge the evidence that, in their own way, both co-owners of the football club have wanted what was best for it and, indeed, contributed financially to returning it to the Premier League.

If all that is stating the obvious then what is best for the club right now is blindingly so. The speediest possible end to the infighting and in the most ideal of all worlds, as already promoted by one of the protagonists, new ownership. Preferably with fewer chiefs.

Far less obvious is how this can be achieved amidst an unseemly washing of dirty linen in public involving too many chiefs.

So here’s the bottom line for now. Yet again the focus is on one man to front the club, to take it forward in spite of everything.

Now I try as a rule only to comment on things I think I know a bit about. And frankly I have known little of the detail of the acrimony, only that a bitter divide existed. Being left dumbstruck by some of it disqualifies comment, let alone that the case is ongoing.

But what I do know is this. Chris Wilder’s winning of promotion against this background is nothing short of miraculous. Forget anything or anyone else, he is far and away the biggest asset the club possesses. And keeping him for the longer term depends entirely on flattening these issues at the top of the club.

It is on this that I believe Blades fans are entirely focused – not on some tawdry drama in a courtroom.

Those close to Wilder have known his anguish at some stages of what, for distant outsiders, must have looked like a pleasure spree of fun and frolics.

Two promotions in three seasons, adulation from the crowd, accolades from his peers. Not even half the story.

Beneath that has been a consumed and single-minded character somehow keeping it all together, biting his lip on personal frustration and defiantly pointing the way ahead as virtually the one and only voice and face of the club.

It’s only against that backdrop that the full scale of his achievement can be fully appreciated.

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For instance, I happen to know that he fronted out the threat of a transfer embargo following the League One title, played the game on that summer’s transfer speculation and fixed his sights on a push for the play-offs regardless.

Only at the end of that season did Wilder release some pent-up emotion – and only then to force the conditions that would prevent his departure and keep the team on an upward trajectory.

So his current dormant state on the club’s overall affairs should not be mistaken for an absence of inner turmoil, even amid his personal jubilation.

While I believe him to be satisfied that the owners will come to an investment compromise for new players, as before, Wilder will know that the only way United can seize the huge opportunity ahead is with a truly united front.

Look at other clubs subjected to political turmoil. How many of them succeed? It is almost unheard of.

That’s what makes this manager so special.

It can also be a special club.

Although the current inner turmoil is sadly ingrained in the DNA and recent history of the place, we should be celebrating the club and not just the manager, coaches and players.

So much of what the Blades do is to be lauded ... the pricing policy that packs the stadium, the community spirit and friendliness around the club, the lack of grandeur and pretensions, the working class feel of the place.

All in accord with Wilder’s own values. And the team on the field.

There is a lot there to be built on.

Hopefully United will attract an investor or investors (with one deal evidently in the background) who value all of those things and can make the Blades truly United again.