Sheffield United: Chris Wilder remembers an embarrassing incident before his first meeting with Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers
It was his first official engagement as a top-flight manager and Chris Wilder was feeling distinctly over-dressed.
"I was checking my suit and thinking I might have to have an upgrade," he admitted. "Then in walked Sean Dyche wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. So I'm stood there, looking like I was heading off for dinner, knowing I've got this completely wrong."
Although his choice of outfit raised eyebrows, Wilder's presence at the Premier League's annual pre-season get-together proved a talking point for all the right reasons. After leading Sheffield United out of the Championship four months earlier, he was sought-after company when some of the sharpest minds in coaching descended upon a London hotel a couple of weeks ago. One of those keen to make his acquaintance was Brendan Rodgers, whose Leicester City side visit Bramall Lane tomorrow afternoon.
"That was when I first met him properly," Wilder said, referring to the Northern Irishman. "He was really complimentary about what we'd done and I thought it was telling, really interesting, that he already knew everything about us. That shows how much these guys are in love with football because they know exactly what's happening in every division. He was a really good guy and it was good to pick his brains on a few things. We had a really good 10 minutes or so."
When United and City do battle in front of what could be a sell-out crowd, Wilder and Rodgers will be the best of enemies as they attempt to steer their respective teams to victory. But when they chewed the fat in the capital, it was no surprise they got on given the things they have in common. Wilder, who enjoyed a relatively unspectacular career as a player, started life in the dug-out with non-league Alfreton before taking charge of United following spells at Halifax, Oxford and Northampton. Rodgers was also forced to earn his PL status, becoming a youth coach with Chelsea when a genetic knee condition prompted his retirement as a professional aged just 20. After leaving Stamford Bridge, he oversaw Swansea City's promotion from the second tier in 2011 before taking charge of Liverpool and Celtic. Having won seven major trophies in Glasgow, Rodgers joined City towards the end of last term.
"The stories were brilliant," Wilder said. "Brendan, for example, had a huge set-back when he was younger and then concentrated on his coaching. There was a different tale from everyone. Obviously people have different personalities and different approaches, that's good to see. But the one thing we all had in common was the recognition that you've got to do a few things right to reach this level. There was a lot of respect there."
United have made an encouraging start to the new season, taking four points from their opening two games. On the opening weekend of the campaign, they drew with Eddie Howe's AFC Bournemouth before beating Crystal Palace, where former England and Internazionale chief Roy Hodgson is in situ.
"I've had a couple of texts from managers saying 'only another 10 wins needed' and stuff like that," Wilder contnued. "It's appreciated but, to be honest, we're not taking any notice because we've got to try and be competitive every single time we set foot on the pitch. We'll try and attack every single match and see what we can get out of it, showing the same positive attitude we've had over the past three years.
"To be involved in those meetings, and from the club's point of view going head to head with these teams, it's excellent to be fair. There were a lot of humble people down there. One I knew, like Eddie, Steve Bruce, Daniel Farke and Sean. But there were lots of others I met for the first time, like Brendan, Marco (Silva) and quite a few others. Everyone knows how hard it is to get three (points) in this league."
United had just finished mid-table in League One when Wilder, after leading Northampton Town out of the fourth tier, was appointed in May 2016. A couple of weeks earlier, City had just been crowned champions of England; pipping Tottenham Hotspur to the title.
Despite being impressed by United's start, Wilder is aware Rodgers' squad will pose their toughest test of the season so far. Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and Sheffield Wednesday supporter Jamie Vardy could all feature for City, while United could hand full debuts to the likes of Oli McBurnie, Luke Freeman and Ben Osborn.
"A lot of things have happened at that club over the last 10 to 15 years or so," he said. They've gone to a new ground, got investment from foreign owners and are bringing world class players in. They've also done something which can never be taken away from them. So we know how difficult this will be."