Sheffield United: Chris Wilder lifts the lid on his 'rivalry' with Daniel Farke and Norwich City
It started with a rant about the importance of good time-keeping and, following an impromptu makeover of the away dressing room at Carrow Road, quickly descended into a full blown rivalry.
Sheffield United versus Norwich City shouldn’t feel like a grudge match. But it does. And, speaking ahead of his team’s visit to Norfolk on Sunday, Chris Wilder admitted he must take full responsibility.
“It has developed because I lost my rag,” the United manager said, casting his mind back to September 2017 when he accused City of disrespect for arriving late for a match at Bramall Lane. “I’d woken up in a bad mood because we didn’t have any forwards on the morning of the game and, when their bus driver didn’t get to the ground on time, it just escalated from there. So basically the whole thing was set up by me being a grumpy old git.
“I’d been sent off in the game as well, for booting a ball down the touchline and the referee thought I’d taken a load of water bottles out. I actually reckoned it was a pretty good pass and, when I got told to go, one of their coaches smiled at me and pointed upstairs.”
That match, which finished 1-0 in the visitors’ favour, marked the start of what has become a fascinating rivalry between two clubs who gained automatic promotion from the Championship last term. Four months later, when United gained revenge following a 2-1 win, Wilder’s post-match celebrations angered the home support although, as he later explained, they were fuelled by the emotion of a “personal issue.”
“There was stuff going on, to do with family, that lots of people weren’t aware of,” Wilder reiterated yesterday, before reminding how United had covered the pink walls of their changing area with motivational images ahead of their previous trip to City earlier this year.
With their respective squads going toe to toe in the battle for Premier League football last season, eventually condemning Leeds to a play-off finish, that history of antagonism has contributed to the feeling that Wilder and Daniel Farke are the best of enemies. Nothing, it seems though, could be further from the truth.
“Daniel is fine, he’s good,” Wilder said, referring to his counterpart at City. “We’ve had bits and pieces. Away from the lights, I’ve got a really good relationship with Dan.
“We’re in contact. He’s sent me a few texts on our start. And we spoke last season, when I sent him a text. It was an incredible fight between three clubs. But that relationship will get put to one side for 90 minutes.”
“I actually quite enjoy it,” Wilder continued. “All the stuff that surrounds our games with them.
“It’s part and parcel of football, isn’t it? The feelings and all that. But there’s no problem between us, whatsoever.”
To emphasise his point, Wilder paid a handsome tribute to City, describing them as “by far and away the best team” in the second tier last season.
“I was actually proud of the fact we came so close to them,” he said. “Because at one stage it looked like they were going to run away with it.”
Despite finishing behind City in the table, United have adapted better to life in the top-flight. Although they were beaten 2-0 by Newcastle on Thursday, they have prepared for this fixture in 9th; 10 places above Farke’s injury ravaged squad. Wilder, however, was quick to acknowledge that situation could quickly change if the hosts inflict a first away defeat on his side since January.
“They’ve suffered quite badly through injuries and their best player has not been available,” he said. “Daniel can’t do much about that. A lot of their key players have been out and they’ve got a lot of young players as well. You are all looking for that little bit of momentum. But there’s still a lot of football to be played and they’ll be looking at our game to be a kick-start and pull in a few clubs above them, us included, because of the nature of the league and how tight it is.”
“Obviously, outside of Norwich and Sheffield, I don’t think this will be looked upon as the biggest fixture,” Wilder added. “But with what’s gone on over the last couple of years, there’s a little bit more on it for us, with what’s happened.”