Sheffield United:

Given English football's fascination with following fashion rather than creating one of its own, expect the first Championship clubs searching for new managers next season to demand candidates can rattle off the names of, let's say for example, the squad which started their pre-season campaign in 1906.

Thursday, 30th May 2019, 5:21 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

The success of Sheffield United's Chris Wilder and his counterpart at Aston Villa, former Walsall and Brentford head coach Dean Smith, means chairmen across the second tier will probably now be scanning their season ticket receipts from the late Seventies and early Eighties before finalising future short lists.

The fact both United and Villa have prospered under the stewardship of lifelong supporters makes an easy line for journalists and will appeal to sentimentalists. Likewise the fact their respective captains, Billy Sharp and Jack Grealish, fall into the same category.

But attributing the two teams' promotions purely to allegiance does precious little justice to those at the helm. Wilder and Smith have not delivered results because they once went to sleep wearing red and white striped pyjamas or had a poster of Peter Withe on their bedroom wall. No, they are simply damn good at what they do. Bloody good in fact.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder on stage during Sheffield United's promotion parade: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

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Wilder and Smith boast more in common than simply a long and devoted association to the sporting institutions who now pay their wages. Both, it should not go unnoticed, began life in the technical area with pretty unglamorous postings and have since worked their way up to the highest level. Both, as their names suggest, are also English. If nothing else, hopefully these two things will persuade the game's power-brokers to look beyond Borussia Dortmund's B team or Ajax's academy whenever a vacancy crops up.

Still, it would be remiss to pretend the backgrounds of Wilder and Smith have played some part in their achievements. After guaranteeing them goodwill and patience during difficult starts - Wilder lost his first five fixtures in charge of United before leading them to the League One title two years ago - their knowledge of what appeals to those on terraces at Bramall Lane and Villa Park has been important. Hearts and minds have been won, as well as plenty of matches.

What this proves, as well as the prowess of those at the helm, is the power of fans. Ignoring events inside the boardroom, where co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are squaring-up at the High Court, Wilder's employers have been united in both name and nature. Villa, whilst admittedly benefiting from their significant financial muscle, are a very 'together' group too. When Wilder congratulated Smith on his squad's victory over Derby County in Monday's play-off final, he specifically referenced the 48-year-old's ability to keep some of its biggest earners happy. Despite, especially in recent months, granting them few opportunities.

Most of all, however, the achievements of Wilder and Smith demonstrate the importance of personality. Every club has one. Different areas of the country have their own distinct cultural sensibilities. Reflecting these on the pitch, creating something people can identify with, seldom features in coaching manuals. But it builds a connection, a sense of place, pride and purpose.

Aston Villa's manager Dean Smith acknowledges the fans after winning the Championship play-off final: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Events at United and Villa demonstrate that. They prove, unlike those who slavishly follow whatever is in vogue at Clairefontaine, the Nou Camp or now Manchester City, one size does not necessarily fit all.

Sheffield United players and manager Chris Wilder on stage after reaching the Premier League: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.