James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Forget the fancy theories and so-called experts, this team’s ‘secret’ is simplicity
If, and despite the hype it remains an 'if', Sheffield United do secure automatic promotion to the Premier League then expect large sections of the media to suddenly discover Chris Wilder and his team.
For the majority of the past eight months, Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa in particular have the subject of their affections. Inevitably so to some extent, given the Argentine's curriculum vitae and army of devotees including Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola. But, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, many commentators have allowed their obsession with the former Athletic Bilbao and Chile coach to distract them from the fact that something equally special is happening at Bramall Lane. A transformation which, you could argue, is more meaningful to the vast majority of those who follow, take part and play the game than the one Bielsa is overseeing 40 or so miles to the north.
Why? Because it is being driven by processes and decisions even those involved at grassroots level can implement or make.
Plenty has been written, in these parts at least, about the budgetary constraints Wilder has been working under. It is something which, from personal experience, yours truly can confirm does not always go down well with those holding the purse strings. But even though they have been loosened of late, most notably when handing new long term contracts to a number of influential players, it is simply a fact that the 51-year-old and his staff do not have access to the same financial resources as their many of their counterparts elsewhere in the division.
Yet as the Championship rankings confirm - United enter Saturday's home fixture against Ipswich Town three points clear of Bielsa's third placed side with two matches remaining - this imbalance has not proven to be an insurmountable obstacle in the pursuit of top-flight status.
The reason, although no doubt others will use poetic language and complex theories to try and pretend otherwise, is because they have not allowed sport to be hijacked by science. Yes, statistics and technology have been embraced by Wilder's coaches and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell. But they still recognise, despite using them to their advantage, that the game is essentially about human-beings. People, their moods and personalities, exert greater influence over what happens on the pitch than a computer generated spreadsheet.
United's climb to second in the table can be explained very simply. Their squad is full of talented individuals with good attitudes and characters, selected because they have to potential to blossom in a specific tactical framework. Wilder and his assistants work those under their command hard. They coach them methodically and demand plenty. But in return, United's players are also encouraged to enjoy and express themselves. Both on and off the pitch. That, barring one or two false steps, has allowed them to maximise their potential and cope with the psychological and physical pressures associated with trying to complete what would be a life-changing feat.
Sunday League managers can do the same. Because the process relies on personality, not pound notes. And that, the lack of grandeur, makes it more meaningful and special.