Sheffield United: Chris Wilder thanks two famous well-wishers ahead of Premier League return
Late on Wednesday evening, as he was croaking his way through a conversation at the Steelphalt Academy, Chris Wilder's mobile phone suddenly pinged into life.
His initial reaction was relief. Spinning plates ahead of the Premier League season and nursing a painfully sore throat, receiving text messages rather than calls meant he could save his voice for addressing much more pressing concerns. Such as Sheffield United's first top-flight fixture in 12 and a bit years and trying to recruit another midfielder, which turned out to be Mo Bešić, before the transfer deadline.
But when Wilder discovered who had sent them, he would gladly have picked-up. After all, Tony Pulis and Paul Lambert had re-organised their own busy schedules to make sure they got in touch.
"I got a nice line from Tony," Wilder said, "And Paul sent one through too. They just told us to go out there and enjoy it. That and wishing us all the best for the future as well."
Wilder relayed the story about his fellow managers during United's pre-match media briefing today as, analysing this weekend's big curtain-raiser against AFC Bournemouth, he also performed a more than passable impersonation of Burnley's Sean Dyche. The visit to Dorset, which marks his club's return to elite level football after more than a decade away, is the first of 38 hurdles standing between Wilder's squad and their stated aim of survival. Something he acknowledged, despite securing automatic promotion last term, the majority of pundits do not expect them to achieve.
Seated behind a desk painted in United colours and emblazoned with their badge, the scene which greeted Wilder when he arrived to discuss the fixture confirmed, if he hadn't already realised, that his side are about to enter a whole new world. Four months ago, as they closed-in on the top-flight following a gruelling duel with Leeds, only a handful of journalists bothered to attend United's press conference which, given the numbers, were invariably held inside a small, cramped office commandeered by their public relations team. A lot has happened in the space of 17 weeks. Now, reporters jostled for space with a bank of television cameras as United unveiled their new tailor-made suite.
It is both the scale and the speed of that change which, Wilder acknowledged, has prompted most commentators to predict United are destined for an immediate return to the Championship. A summer recruitment drive, which has focused almost exclusively on EFL talent, is another reason put forward by the so-called experts. But Wilder, cutting a confident and carefree figure despite the hoarse voice, cited countless examples of players who have become household names despite beginning their careers further down the pyramid. One - Phil Jagielka - recently returned to Bramall Lane from Everton. Another with United connections - Harry Maguire - is now the world's most expensive defender. It was a good-natured but brutal dismantling of the theory that the bookies, who price Wilder's side as odds-on favourites to be relegated, always know best.
"Every player started somewhere," he said. "Look at Jamie Vardy, he came through Halifax, Stocksbridge and Fleetwood before winning the title with Leicester and playing for England. Jags, capped even more times by his country, came through with us when we weren't in the top division. Harry Maguire, with the fee he's just gone for, he made his debut in League One with us. It's up to the boys here now to show they want to progress and develop in the same way. There's always going to be favourites and there's always going to be underdogs. It's all opinions and all views. The main view, from our perspective, is what we think and how we feel."
"The likes of Bournemouth and Brighton, they are inspirations," Wilder continued, warming to the theme. "Yes, a few have dropped down and come back up. There's some good stories. We want to stay in there, get a platform and be competitive in every game. Huddersfield, little old Huddersfield, were a great example in their first season. They didn't score a goal in the play-offs, went up, and then stayed up with a result at Chelsea."
With a full-strength squad at their disposal, United could conceivably hand debuts to eight new players at The Vitality Stadium. Record signing Oli McBurnie and Callum Robinson, previously of Preston North End, appear certain starters, together with goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Jagielka, Ravel Morrison, Luke Freeman and Ben Osborn could also feature although Lys Mousset, signed from Eddie Howe's side, is expected to be granted more time to improve his fitness. Bournemouth, who finished 14th last term, are likely to select loanee Harry Wilson.
Wilder's respect for Howe, who also boasts an enviable reputation for spotting unfulfilled potential, was evident as he looked ahead to the fixture.
"They are coaches and teachers down there, he's a fantastic manager, they make their players better," Wilder said. "Take someone like Callum Wilson for example, who came from Coventry. He's now in the England mix-up as well, so our lads can look at that and take inspiration from it. That's what is possibly out there for some of them."
Even though his tired vocal chords would make it difficult, Wilder confirmed he had not planned to deliver a rousing speech in the dressing room before kick-off on Saturday.
"They're ready," he said. "There's no motivation required. I'll just tell them to give it everything and be true to what they're about. We have to alter a little bit, tinker and change, but we've got good players and good staff. We want to give it a shot."