Sheffield United: Chris Wilder on Chelsea, Frank Lampard and strange accents

It is almost imperceptible. Inaudible, among the flat and contorted vowels of his native Yorkshire accent, to all but the most highly-trained of ears.

Thursday, 29th August 2019, 23:32 pm
Sheffield United's Oliver McBurnie (right) celebrates scoring his side's goal against Leicester City: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

But every so often, whenever he forgets himself, Chris Wilder slips into Estuary English. And the story of why reveals a link, albeit a very tenuous one, with Saturday's opponents Chelsea.

"I spent a little bit of time in London," he explains, ahead of Sheffield United's visit to Stamford Bridge. "That's why I've got this ridiculous twang at times to my voice. I've spent ages trying to shake it off."

A dyed-in-the-wool Blade, as Sheffield as Wards beer and Henderson's Relish, Wilder's name has become synonymous with the club he supported, played for and, after twice leading it to promotion, now manages in the Premier League. But it was on the outskirts of London, after his father moved down south to work, where he took his first serious steps in the game. Indeed, after enrolling at a primary school near Sevenoaks, he found himself on the same team as another youngster who would also go on to turn professional.

Chris Wilder has lots of respect for his opposite number: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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"I went to a place called Crockenhill, which is actually a little village, and ended up getting selected for Kent Boys," Wilder continues. "It was at under-10 level and there was another lad in there called Gavin Peacock, who as everyone will know represented Chelsea.

"Those were my formative years really, playing at school, and then it was back home up here with Brunsmeer and Sheffield Boys. I think we quickly realised where we wanted to be so we headed back up the road again. Back to Manor Top, Arbourthorne and good old S2."

A mischievous grin spreads across Wilder's face as he traces his family's journey back north. But it quickly disappears when conversation turns to this weekend's meeting with Chelsea; arguably United's toughest assignment of the season so far.

After taking four points from their opening three games, Wilder's squad travel south aware of the challenge which awaits them in the capital but confident of building upon their encouraging start to the campaign. Chelsea have returned exactly the same number as Frank Lampard, their former midfielder, steers them through a transitional period in the club's history. Although eyebrows were raised in some quarters when the 41-year-old was appointed earlier this summer, Wilder has the greatest of respect for his opposite number after locking horns with him in the Championship last term. Indeed, noting how one of the most decorated players of his generation entered the technical area with Derby County, Wilder insisted a phrase which many people used as a way to poke fun actually revealed plenty about Lampard's character.

Frank Lampard, like Chris Wilder, is a legendary figure at his club: Steven Paston/PA Wire

"There was all that 'Frank Lampard's Derby County' stuff going around," he acknowledges. "Lots of folk used to laugh at it but, do you know what, for me that shows he was ready to deal with the pressure and knowing all eyes were on him.

"He worked under some great managers at Chelsea and he'll have picked up lots from them. He went there, changed things around, and now has got the job I think most of us knew he was always destined for given his history with the club and legendary status there."

United enjoyed two hard-fought tussles with County en route to their second placed finish. Lampard's team went on to lose in the play-off final but, remembering those encounters, Wilder suspects County might have come higher if Mason Mount, now back at Chelsea following a loan spell in the Midlands, had not been injured at a crucial stage of the season.

"We had some tremendous games with them," he says. "They beat us at their place, when we went behind pretty quickly and then they changed a few things and we couldn't get out until later on. At our place, we beat them and that was a proper match where nothing was asked and nothing was given.

Frank Lampard (left) and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder : Nigel French/PA Wire.

"Frank changed the way Derby went about things after going in there," Wilder adds. "He brought in young players and ditched their counter-attacking style to something more proactive. Mason was a great player for them and, if he'd not been lost at a key time, who is to say they wouldn't also have pushed for the top two."

Wilder, named the LMA's Manager of the Year after leading United back into the top-flight, is already regarded as one of England's finest coaching talents. Drawing on his own knowledge and experience, Wilder predicts a bright future for Lampard and two of his contemporaries.

"Him, John Terry and Steven Gerrard, I think most managers they've worked for will have picked them out," Wilder says. "Some iconic footballers think it's easier than it is, that they'll just take their badges and that's that. They really under-estimate it.

"What separates the ones who make it, like those three I'm sure, is a genuine love for the game and understanding of its intricacies from every single angle; tactical, physical, technical and mental. You need all four things. Some have an understanding of a few but you need them all."

Sheffield United have started the new Premier League season well: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

Insisting there are several managers of the future within his own squad - "I won't name who they are" - Wilder continues: "Certain ones have got an interest in everything you do, they want to know why you made a decision and want to watch all the clips. I've got a lot of time for lads like that and we try and pass on what we know. But you also get people in football who never show any interest in it whenever they're not playing. That's fair enough and it takes all sorts even though I don't understand it. That's probably what separates those who want to be managers from those who don't."

After losing to Leicester City last weekend, United are expected to include record signing Oli McBurnie in their starting eleven against Chelsea while captain and fellow striker Billy Sharp also hopes to feature. McBurnie, who scored during the 2-1 defeat, was withdrawn midway through Tuesday's Carabao Cup win over Blackburn Rovers.

"We like to be settled and organised," Wilder says, electing to keep his selections under wraps. "But we also like to have the ability to do different things in different situations."