James Shield's Sheffield United Column: As strange as it sounds, Sunday’s Super Bowl should strike a chord at Bramall Lane
On Sunday evening, over 70,000 people will cram into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a £1.6 billion mass of glass, steel and geometric panelling towering over downtown Atlanta, and watch the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots tackle, pass and scrimmage it out for the right to be crowned Super Bowl Champions.
Admittedly, American football doesn't really float my boat. On the face of it, this weekend's events in Georgia have absolutely nothing to do with Sheffield United's push for the Premier League. But scrolling absent-mindedly through the sports pages, I stumbled across an article which made me wonder: Is Chris Wilder the Bill Belichick of the EFL?
Belichick, the Patriots' legendary coach, polarises opinion in the NFL despite winning its greatest prize five times with the Boston based franchise. His sometimes abrasive demeanor, which has reportedly even prompted friends to christen him 'A Hole', is responsible for that.
Wilder, despite his more congenial personality, also splits opinion. Loved at Bramall Lane, an healthy disrespect for the disciplines of PR and spin means some of his utterances do not resonate quite so well beyond its boundaries. But other than they way they are perceived by the public, and acknowledging the fact United's manager has some way to go in his own chosen discipline before entering the same stratosphere as the 66-year-old Tennessean, there are other intriguing similarities between the two.
An economics graduate, it is no surprise Belichick has built his reputation on predicting market trends. In a competition which utilises recruitment drafts and salary caps to establish a degree of financial parity, this has helped him become both a tactical pioneer and serial-winner. One whose squad, despite the presence of golden boy Tom Brady and several Hall of Famers, is a team in the true sense of the word.
Wilder's success is built on similar foundations, even though the Championship could hardly be described as an egalitarian division. In 2016, after seeing his reign at United get off to the worst possible start, Wilder switched to a 3-5-2 formation when others were suggesting this system, given its complexities and inherent risks, was essentially redundant. It worked a treat, delivering promotion at the first time of asking and then a play-off challenge. United, third in the table ahead of tomorrow's game against Bolton Wanderers, still use it now.
Belichick, according to one insightful piece of analysis published during the build-up to the Patriots' big day, "has had great success with quirky schematic innovations, but, for the most part, he takes tried and tested methods and adopts them."
Wilder's strategy is not unheard of but the twist, over-lapping centre-halves combined with wing-backs, is. His counterpart in the States would almost certainly be impressed if it was ever brought to his attention.
Recruitment-wise, the two also have plenty in common as they turn to face the prevailing wind. As the Patriots' rivals focus on smaller, more mobile athletes, Belichick has unearthed some under-valued gems by hiring powerful players instead. In South Yorkshire, while those around him increasingly look abroad for fresh talent, Wilder has concentrated his efforts on the domestic market; a ploy which, like Belichick, has enabled him to disprove the notion that limitless funding is a pre-requisite for success.
Whatever the outcome of Sunday's extravaganza, however United's push for the top-flight turns out, it is encouraging to see innovation and intelligence achieving results rather than simply cold, hard cash.