Sheffield United: Why is Chris Wilder threatening to ‘chop off people’s legs’ ahead of key Brentford clash
When he strode into the media room to face questions about Brentford, Chris Wilder already knew the message he wanted to convey.
Tomorrow's game might not generate as much hype as a South Yorkshire derby. It has not captured the imagination quite like Saturday's showdown with second-placed Leeds. But in the context of the race for automatic promotion Wilder wanted everyone, whether they were present or not, to understand just how big it is.
"People outside of the group might think that," Sheffield United's manager said, replying to a query about focus and if his team might already have an eye on Marcelo Bielsa's side. "But nobody mentioned Sheffield Wednesday before we'd played West Brom, nobody mentioned Brentford before last weekend's game against Rotherham and nobody has mentioned the next one now.
"That's the attitude of the players and the staff. If we don't put the necessary work in, if we don't show the right attention to detail, then we won't get the desired result."
Despite using the threat of physical violence to hammer home his point - "They know if they did, they'd get their legs chopped off" - Wilder was in relaxed mood as he previewed United's game against the visitors from west London. The reason, even though the margin for error towards the top of the division is tighter than a pair of spray-on jeans, was two fold; the confidence borne from methodical preparation and chance to catch-up with his counterpart Thomas Frank.
The Dane, previously of Brøndby IF and Dean Smith's assistant before he left for Aston Villa, endured a difficult start to life in the top job at Griffin Park. But after losing six of his first seven matches at the helm, including United's trip to the capital in November, arrives in South Yorkshire searching for a third straight win.
"I'm delighted he's come through it," Wilder said. "They play in a way and they've stuck to it. They don't change the way they play. They've changed their shape a little bit but it's still gifted, technical footballers who can move the ball around. We're aware of the threats the possess."
"Thomas was part of Dean's staff and was offered the job," he continued. "It was a difficult period. We got a result down there but it was a tough evening. They've got an identity and a talented group of players who can hurt you."
Identity, a sense of self and purpose, is important to Wilder too. Indeed, with neither United nor Brentford possessing unlimited financial resources, he cited forethought and planning as factors behind their success.
"I think you do need one, a plan and an identity. There has to be a short, medium and long term plan. Very rarely do the short term ones work, the big gambles. It's been flagged up.
"There's so many clubs under embargo, who can't do this and can't do that. For me, it's part of my job not to put us in that position. That's the way I work. Other clubs possibly don't. They go for the big gamble, sack a manager and then start again.
"I've got to say, being honest, I've got no sympathy for clubs who do it that way. If I had the amounts some have, I still wouldn't do it that way. I'm proud of the way we've done it, because we've continually improved."
United, who consolidated their grip on third after beating Paul Warne's men two days ago, are close to surpassing last season's points total with 10 fixtures to spare. Recruitment has driven that progress, with Gary Madine and former Brentford centre-forward Scott Hogan among those to sign since the two clubs met earlier this term. Frank's employers, whose statistics and data-led approach is a source of fascination among journalists and supporters alike, have also excelled in this department. In fact, it is possible to make a case that United and Brentford are the competition's two best operators in the transfer market.
"I got asked a question at one of the forums at the start of the season," Wilder, who adopts a more organic approach towards identifying targets, said. "One of them was 'Why don't we do what Brentford are doing?' There's a lot more to it than meets the eye.
"Without being critical of the knowledge of some people, they don't realise what goes into it. They spend a lot of money, an awful lot, in terms of the process to get these players. It's been successful for them and they do well off the back of it." "We all have strategies, governed by the people at the top," he added. "But there's a lot of detail that goes into it.
"There's a lot of analysis they do, and with respect it's not interns doing it sat around a table. These are professional people analysing players all across the continent."
United, who could climb above Leeds with a win or find themselves four points behind second if they lose, have enjoyed a dramatic change in fortune following Wilder's appointment in May 2016. Then, about to embark upon their sixth straight campaign in the third tier, an air of despondency was hanging above Bramall Lane.
Thirty-four months on, and with many of their League One title winning squad still in situ, they are dreaming of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
"We all do it in a different way," Wilder said, contrasting United's strategy with the one employed by Brentford."We've talked about where does the club go in the summer and recruitment is huge.
"We've started from scratch here, bringing (head of recruitment) Paul (Mitchell) in and then the experience and contacts of myself and Al (assistant manager Alan Knill).
"We were at a different stage. We had to get out of League One, pure and simple. It wasn't long-term. It was 'let's get out of this division as soon as we can' with a little bit of an eye on lads who could play at a higher level like Jack O'Connell and John Fleck.
“We think we've delivered value for money in terms of what we've invested, with wages, fees and balancing it out with people moving on."
United are among those to benefit from Brentford's number-crunching, with defenders John Egan and Jack O'Connell both signed directly from their latest opponents. But the improvements the two have made under Wilder's tutelage, the latter after being signed for around £500,000, confirms the 51-year-old and his scouts are able to get ahead of the financial curve too.
"The biggest compliment I can pay to Dean and Thomas is that we fancy a lot of their players," Wilder acknowledged, insisting 13th placed Brentford can still make the play-offs. "Although they didn't fancy Jack so we'll take that.
"There's an obvious connection though. John has been outstanding for us and he's taken his game to another level. He has been a big player and will be a big player going forward. Jack's performances have been outstanding as well."