James Shield's Sheffield United Column: I'm not actually sure I agree with Chris Wilder

It doesn't happen very often. After all, how can you disagree with or question a manager who has delivered two promotions in only three seasons?

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 19:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 21:58 pm
David McGoldrick in action against AFC Bournemouth: James Wilson/Sportimage

But for the second time in the space of four days, I've found myself slightly perturbed by something Chris Wilder has said. First, following last weekend's victory over Crystal Palace. Then, when he looked ahead to Saturday's game against Leicester City, during his latest pre-match media conference.

Understandably, given his remarkable achievements since taking charge at Bramall Lane, questioning Wilder's judgement is viewed as tantamount to blasphemy by some Sheffield United supporters. Or being unkind to a cute little kitten among those not of a religious persuasion. (At this point, I'll unmask myself as a cat lover, before more complaints than usual start pouring in).

But after listening to his views on one particular subject, I feel compelled to take the risk. Because I don't believe United should become more cunning to win free-kicks and penalties against Premier League teams. Nor, as Wilder put it, must his squad learn to be more "streetwise" in order to avoid giving them away.

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Clearly, after raising the subject without prompting during the immediate aftermath of Palace's visit, Wilder had been irritated by the fouls awarded against some of his players. Then, having volunteered it as a topic for post-game discussions, he gladly accepted the invitation to approach it again when it was raised by fellow journalists yesterday morning.

"From a 'being clever' perspective, I'm on about taking fouls when they're on offer," Wilder told the assembled audience. "Whereas people in the Championship tend to stay on their feet more, maybe there's more tactical fouls in this division."

Yes, it must be galling to see a player feign unconciousness whenever their heels are clipped. I get it must frustrating, particularly if it costs you, to watch opponents writhing in agony and then miraculously recover the second they hear the referee's whistle. Bloody frustrating in fact.

But the only way to rid football of this cheating - because that's exactly what it is - is to treat it as a contact sport until such time as the authorities declare otherwise. Which isn't too far away - either by accident or design - if the present trend continues.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

I get why Wilder, whose job is dependent upon results, has taken the stance he has. There have been a couple of occasions already this term when theatrics have nearly cost them dear either going forward or at the back. But if United change their approach, however subtlely, it will be impossible for them to complain when they are actually wronged. Much better, surely, to simply approach their work the same way they always have. With honesty and integrity. Then purposefully highlight every single instance when a match official is conned.

It might make them unpopular. With rivals and the authorities. But I tell you what, it would serve a higher purpose. And almost certainly win them more friends than they would lose.

John Lundstram tackles Luka Milivojevic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: James Wilson/Sportimage