James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why the Thought Police are talking absolute tosh

We've all done it. We've all been there. We all know what it feels like to make an absolute ricket of something at work

Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 9:18 pm
Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

And some of us know, when the inevitable happens, that folk beyond the office or shop floor are also going to notice. Which only adds to the embarrassment.

Dean Henderson, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, found himself in exactly that position during last weekend's defeat by Liverpool. Chris Wilder's side were comfortably on course towards a creditable draw when, midway through the second-half of a match being screened live across the world, the youngster allowed Georginio Wijnaldum's shot to squirm through his legs. Cue a disconsolate looking player and one, making no attempt to disguise it, extremely frustrated manager.

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By and large, Dean Henderson has been exceptional for Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"Dean has the raw qualities," Wilder said, before confirming he would not be "putting an arm" around the 22-year-old. "You've seen he makes big saves. This is a big season for him, personally. He's got first class coaching and his team mates think a lot of him. A lot will be how that gets taken on to the next level.

"He made a huge mistake against Leeds last season and came back, the same against (Aston) Villa. I don't want him to make mistakes, though, to drag himself out of a hole."

Henderson, as Wilder explained, has found himself in this position before. Comfortably in credit after helping them gain promotion from the Championship, he nevertheless dropped terrible clangers during two crucial games. But apparently the manager's comments crossed some sort of line. They even, according to some headline-hungry folk in my own profession, threatened the player's mental well-being. Which, of course, is an absolute nonsense. And, given how some outlets now encourage their presenters to adopt deliberately incendiary stances towards seemingly inconsequential issues, worthy of no further comment. Because to do so would give them exactly what they want: more free PR in cyberspace and print.

What does confuse me, however, is that folk think it beyond the boundaries of acceptability for coaching staff to even acknowledge mistakes. Let alone, God forbid, publicly tell one of their players they must do better in order to realise their potential. Players who, at Premier League level, are supposedly mature enough to earn an average of £50,000 a week but too delicate, despite performing in front of billions, to handle public scrutiny.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Wilder, I suspect, has fallen victim to two things. One, dare I say it, is a little snobbery. If his name was Wilderio, if he had cut his managerial teeth at Atletico Madrid rather than Alfreton, one can imagine a situation where he was being praised for a piece of psychological genius. The other, as we have seen on countless occasions in other areas of society, is the desire of some people to be be viewed as so 'on-message' they could have edited Pravda. Worthy causes, such as mental health and equality, end-up being hijacked by those more concerned about their own image than the issues they purport to promote. The rest of us, then, find it impossible to say anything without being accused of insensitivity or worse. It could be a generational thing because, as one former United favourite commented on Twitter: "What was Wilder meant to tell him? Well done? More of the same please?"

What Wilder's utterances actually demonstrate is a grasp of his brief. Which is management. Of around 30 or so well-recompensed, talented and skillful but very different sportsmen.

Henderson is someone who clearly responds to a rocket. He got one, together with Callum Robinson, midway through United's draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge two months ago. Wilder's support for David McGoldrick, after he missed a series of excellent chances against Southampton recently, indicate he knows the centre-forward requires softer encouragement. Not everyone is the same. No matter how much the professionally offended might try and argue otherwise. The clue is how the usually excellent Henderson has responded to similar treatment in the past.