Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: Proving doubters wrong fuels Chris Wilder's success amidst praise for new boy Ravel Morrison
They’ll often tell you they “don’t have anything to prove” but in reality football people thrive on doing just that.
Take Chris Wilder. Still. Never one to “dress up” his feelings and staying grounded for all the richly deserved plaudits that have come his way this summer, including the ultimate accolade from his peers of being the 2018-19 Manager of the Season.
Which means, as the Sheffield United boss takes on what he calls “the biggest of big challenges”, he still remembers the way he was perceived even as recently as three years ago. And uses it to pour even more fuel on his inferno of ambition.
“You get categorised and stuck in boxes,” he told me on Sheffield Live just last week. “I was certainly stuck in a box when I first came to Sheffield United.”
The fact the football under Wilder has been a revelation, besides his rampant success, suggests we might all have been a bit guilty to a greater or lesser degree.
Of what? That because some people “just thought I’d managed in the lower leagues” they had a fixed idea of his style ... “get it back to front quickly ... run around ... win a few headers.”
Wilder admits he felt it was “quite disrespectful”, adding: “You’re always trying to prove people wrong and break up that idea.”
Doubtless, for all his exceptional work and an exhilarating brand of football, there will be those outside this city and in the more palatial environs of the Premier League who make the same false and foolish presumption.
In nearly every match there will be more gifted and expensive players in opposition but they’ll get a game in more than one sense of that phrase. The intention is to play from the back and attack just as before, allied to the earthier qualities of United’s teamwork.
When he reflects that his achievements thus far have given English managers “hopefully a bit of inspiration that it can be done” Wilder isn’t just looking back.
It’s reflected in the very strategic addition of Ravel Morrison, a brilliant but erratic and frustrating talent who’s been given what could be a last big chance, at just 26, in the top flight.
Wilder reasons: “Ravel is something we hadn’t got. He produces moments of magic out of nothing. We’re a team that builds pressure, creates momentum and grinds teams down.”
Anticipating that there will be “less opportunity” to succeed that way this season, the Blades boss says: “We need somebody to pull something out of the bag and we’re delighted to have signed Ravel.”
Plus others including proven Championship performers Luke Freeman and Callum Robinson who are “brilliant at the top of the pitch, do a number of positions and give us options” besides being “real value for money.”
With Lys Mousset having become United’s third transfer record breaker and a fourth in the pipeline, Wilder is still after a couple more players on top of goalkeeper Dean Henderson - for a “total of eight or nine” this summer.
As he says: “It’s an exciting time.”