Sheffield United: Chris Wilder says The Blades' Premier League return is a potential game-changer for both Sheffield as a whole and his club
Tomorrow afternoon, as his players steel themselves for battle against AFC Bournemouth, Chris Wilder will take a moment to reflect on the progress they have made.
Speaking at Sheffield United's training complex yesterday, the 51-year-old initially insisted there was no chance of him getting sentimental before the Premier League game. But not even the most hard-headed of managers, after leading their boyhood club from the third to the first tier of English football in 39 months, could resist succumbing to temptation and considering, if only for a second, the magnitude of the achievement.
"It's come a long way," he said. "We can't take away what's happened. If I do think about it, it will be for a very short period.
"I've talked to the players about not getting caught up in all that 'first day back' stuff. We're up against a really good attacking team and we want to pose them problems. We've got to get the message right, that we are here to play football, but also enjoy it."
Despite his best efforts to pretend otherwise, the visit to Dorset will be a landmark occasion for Wilder and the majority of his team. After cutting his coaching teeth with Bradway in the Meadowhall Sunday League, Wilder now finds himself preparing to try and outwit some of the brightest brains in the business including Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and, as he made a point of reminding, the hosts' Eddie Howe. The match, it is also worth remembering, marks the culmination of a similar journey for many of United's players. Luke Freeman, David McGoldrick and Dean Henderson are among those set to experience their first taste of top-flight competition. George Baldock, Chris Basham and even Oli McBurnie, United's new record signing, have previously completed spells in the semi-professional game.
Given the financial and commercial rewards a team with PL status brings, United's return to the highest level represents an opportunity for the whole city too. Despite being one of the biggest in the country and giving birth to the modern game, Sheffield is often treated shabbily by sections of the establishment. Now, with one of its two powerhouses back in the big time, this proud sporting region can showcase itself to the world.
"Definitely," Wilder admitted, "I'll answer this how you'd expect. I'm not right bothered about anything else that happens in this city footballing-wise. But it's a great city and a great rivalry. It's fluctuated, the rivalry, one way and the other throughout the years.
"From a city point of view, one of the biggest in England and with a lot of great things happening in it, hopefully we can do it proud. Because we're proud to come from here and proud to call it our home."
Predictably, given their rapid rise through the divisions, United are being tipped for relegation by pundits and bookmakers alike. One well-known radio presenter even went so far as to suggest they were already resigned to the drop after focusing their summer recruitment drive on Championship talent.
"I couldn't give a moneys about what people say," Wilder admitted. "Everybody, we've got to accept there's going to be opinions on us. But that's what it is, it's an opinion.
"Do you know what? I'll gladly be involved in those opinions. Because folk rarely have them on people beyond the Premier League. I respect everybody's opinion. I don't get flustered by it."