Sheffield United: Chris Wilder reveals what he really thinks about Tony Pulis, his opposite number at Middlesbrough
In Chris Wilder's vocabulary, 'proper' means respect.
Wigan Athletic's Paul Cook is a “proper” manager. Aston Villa, who last week denied Sheffield United second place in the table, are a “proper football club”. So when Wilder refers to his counterpart at Middlesbrough as "proper solid", it tells you all you need to know about his admiration for Tony Pulis. The Welshman might not be the most glamorous name on the circuit. His methods curry very little favour among football's fashionistas. But inside the bootroom at Bramall Lane, where United and their rivals from Teesside meet tomorrow evening, Pulis is viewed as one of the best in the business.
"Our backgrounds are similar, he's older, he's someone you can't help but admire," Wilder said. "I'd love to have his career by the way, the time he's worked at the highest level. Tony speaks the same language as me, and I'm looking forward to welcoming him and his staff in afterwards."
It is, as Wilder acknowledged yesterday, impossible to overstate the significance of United's match against Pulis' side. Ranked third and fifth respectively ahead of tonight's round of fixtures, a victory for the hosts could see them climb above Leeds and, depending upon the outcome of Norwich City's trip to Preston North End, move to within touching distance of the leaders from Carrow Road. Pulis' presence across the technical area, from Wilder's perspective, gives the occasion an extra edge.
Despite their different personalities and divergent ideas about how the game should be played, the two are bound together by several common threads. Like Pulis, who cut his teeth at Bournemouth and Gillingham before enjoying great success with Stoke, Wilder has worked his way up from the lower rungs of the coaching ladder. And like the 51-year-old, whose first posting was at Alfreton, Pulis can be brutally honest. Neither subscribes to the theory that footballers, no matter what the circumstances, must never be publicly criticised.
"It's a dying thing, isn't it," Wilder acknowledged. "People say you can't say 'this' or 'that.' But I can and I will. Tony is the same, he’s magnanimous in victory and very gracious in defeat. He tells it like it is.
"It comes from the acceptance of the group and there's no bigger supporter of that group than me. It comes from the characters within it."
"We're just honest," he continued. "If people make mistakes, people see them. There's no point in pretending they haven't happened. "They're an honest group, that's a great quality to have, and that's something we do look at in terms of recruitment. They understand if something has to be said, it will be said. But they also know they've got our backing."
Although winning is everything at this stage of the season, those teams capable of coping with disappointment are likely to last the promotion pace. Both Middlesbrough and United, who surrendered a three goal advantage at Villa Park before being held to a draw, have experienced their fair share of set-backs since the beginning of the campaign. The fact they enter this match chasing automatic promotion, by Wilder's reckoning, reflects well on both squads' character.
"We're delighted with the way things are going," he insisted, reflecting upon events in the Midlands four days ago. "We're looking forward to kicking on. I was expecting questions about the attitude of the players and I would have answered them in the same way, no spin, it's great.
"The way we dominated the ball was good, everything connected with the game was as good as we could have wanted it to go," Wilder added. "You just can't legislate for individual mistakes. it wasn't tactical.
"I disagree with what Dean (Smith, the Villa manager) said about them pushing us back. Yes, the players were obviously very disappointed afterwards.
"They've not let anybody down by the way, they deserve an enormous amount of credit. They deserve an enormous amount of backing, even though I'm possibly contradicting myself, because they don't need it to pick themselves up."
Six months ago, when they travelled to the North-East, United's heaviest defeat of the season so far proved the catalyst for their climb up the rankings. A horrible start, which saw Middlesbrough score all of their three goals inside the first 25 minutes, left the visitors propping up the rest of the division and without a point from their opening two matches. They have averaged nearly two per game, 1.9 to be exact, since.
"I think we've come on a lot," Wilder said. "There's different players, Oliver Norwood wasn't here then for example, and John Egan had only just come in, the same as David McGoldrick, and was still finding his feet here.
"Middlesbrough are a big club in the division and they're going well. It goes to show we've also been going well because we're a touch above them."