James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why The Blades are at the forefront of a new footballing fashion

On Tuesday night, hours after the second day of the hearing set to decide who owns Sheffield United had concluded, the public face of the Premier League side was being lauded by his peers.

By james.shield1
Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 11:09
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Events inside the High Court's Rolls Building, where the club is being forced to wash its laundry in public as Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud vie for sole control, demonstrate what a complex and political business modern football has become.

A short 30 minute drive across London, down Fetter Lane, along Fleet Street and then past The Wellington Arch, Wilder was striking a blow for simplicity after pipping the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp to the LMA's coveted Manager of the Year prize.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

There is nothing mysterious about what he does. Instead, in an era where some of his contemporaries cloak their shortcomings with indecipherable strategies and pseudo-intellectual gobblydegook, Wilder conveys clear messages, identifies players with potential while creating an environment in which they can flourish and surrounds himself with talented, like-minded individuals. It is an approach, as three promotions in only four seasons demonstrates, which delivers results.

With two of those coming at Bramall Lane, including last season's from the Championship, Wilder's stock is at an all time. But, as well as reminding sport is essentially about people, he is at the forefront of a new trend too. One which, until the fashion inevitably changes, has the power to destroy careers.Two of this week's highest profile stories illustrate what I mean. And, the more you think about it, the more they are linked to Wilder's coronation at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

Many fans are growing increasingly tired of the game's obsession with power and money. Indeed, yearning for the days when the emphasis was on talent and tactics rather than personalities and property portfolios, they feel increasingly divorced from those who play it for a living or hold the purse strings. That is not a thinly-veiled dig at either Prince Abdullah or McCabe, who in fairness do have to worry about what happens behind the scenes at their club. Rather a reminder, as lawyers make a mint out of their dispute, that the most effective and successful tend to keep the focus on the pitch. (Like it or not, when the examination of witnesses finally concludes, the damage to United's reputation within the industry will take some time to repair).

What happens there, on the 100 metres or so of grass between the goalposts, is what truly bothers those who part with their hard-earned cash to watch 22 young men kick a ball around. At the highest level, most will be multi-millionaires so, with expensive ticket prices and television subscriptions effectively subsidising their wages, folk have every right to expect a certain level of entertainment. Which explains why, although he performed an excellent job there, some Brighton and Hove Albion supporters had seemingly tired of Chris Hughton before he was sacked four days ago. The fare on offer at the AMEX Stadium was, by all accounts, pretty dismal stuff as the former Newcastle chief's squad defended their way to safety rather than 'giving it a go.'

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

It is probably no coincidence, despite being extremely gifted, pragmatists such as Sam Allardyce and David Moyes are now struggling to find work.

Unfortunately, many ex-professionals-turned-pundits who criticised people for being ungrateful when they booed Hughton's players towards the end of the campaign fail to grasp this very important point. It only serves to highlight how divorced, how far removed, many of them have become from those whose adulation made them what they are.

Wilder's teams attack. Or, to borrow one of his favourite phrases, set out "on the front foot". Which given the price of football these days probably explains why he and his ilk, including Klopp and Guardiola, are now among the most admired figures in the game.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton: Nick Potts/PA Wire.